The Twins called up Austin when Logan Morrison, a first baseman and designated hitter, was lost for the season with an injured left hip. It reunited Austin with the Twins’ hitting coach, James Rowson, a former Yankees minor league instructor.
Austin, who turned 27 on Thursday, quickly impressed the Twins with his power, homering six times in his first 12 games. The most prodigious: an Aug. 26 blast into Catch, the restaurant and bar above the batter’s eye at Target Field, estimated at 433 feet by Major League Baseball’s Statcast technology. Two innings later, Austin homered again, to the opposite field, his third multiple-homer game of the season and first as a Twin.
“This is the first time at this level where he’s really gotten a chance to get extended at-bats and play consistently,” Rowson said. “That goes a long way. He’s had some good at-bats versus righties, versus lefties, trying to prove he can be a good hitter at this level regardless of who’s on the mound. He’s incredibly confident, and this guy is relentless with the way he goes about it.”
Austin and Aaron Judge made their memorable major league debuts the same day, Aug. 13, 2016, hitting back-to-back home runs. But injuries and circumstances curtailed Austin’s playing time with the Yankees.
Last season, he missed 91 games with a broken bone in his left ankle and a right hamstring strain. This season, Austin hit .290 in April with five home runs and 16 R.B.I. But a poor May (.130) and Bird’s return from ankle surgery led to Austin’s demotion to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in June.
Whether Austin can hit his way into a job with the Twins next season remains to be seen. First baseman Joe Mauer’s eight-year, $184 million contract is up, and he is expected to re-sign with the club or retire. The club also holds an $8 million option on Morrison for 2019.
“He’s a guy that will try to play hurt, try to make a play regardless of consequence to his body,” Twins Manager Paul Molitor said of Austin. “The raw power, it’s impossible not to see what he can do to a baseball when he connects. He wants to become a better hitter and keeps trying to find ways to do that. It’s been fun to watch him play, and I think over all, he’s got to be pretty pleased with what he’s done here.”