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Austin making plenty of noise in bid for bench job

March 14, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tyler Austin went through a stretch over the past week with hits in six straight plate appearances -- and it's likely that everyone in the Twins' clubhouse knew about it, too.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tyler Austin went through a stretch over the past week with hits in six straight plate appearances -- and it's likely that everyone in the Twins' clubhouse knew about it, too.

"First of all, he’ll let us know he’s 6 for his last 6," manager Rocco Baldelli said on Sunday. "I’m sure if nobody knows it yet, there’ll be some sort of announcement. As there should be. He’s been great."

Shortly thereafter, Austin clubbed his first homer of the spring on Tuesday. He has a team-leading 13 hits in 33 at-bats, including two doubles, and a slash line of .394/.394/.545.

Austin's strong performance comes at a good time for him as the Twins' roster continues to shrink with Opening Day only two weeks away. He remains one of the more pressing roster questions at the end of Minnesota's bench, as the Twins have built up depth at first base during the offseason and Austin is out of Minor League options.

"I don’t know why some of these balls have gone through," Austin said with a laugh. "Some of them have not been hit hard at all, so I guess it’s just good luck at this moment. I need to save that for the season. I can’t be getting all these soft hits during spring."

The 27-year-old Austin put forth a solid audition for the Twins' first-base job late last season after arriving from the Yankees in the trade that sent pitcher Lance Lynn to the Bronx. Austin showed impressive power to all fields in hitting .236/.294/.488 with nine homers in 35 games, finishing ninth among Major Leaguers with barrels on 15.8 percent of his batted balls -- one spot behind J.D. Martinez, and two ahead of Giancarlo Stanton.

But Austin's roster situation got more tenuous during the offseason when the Twins claimed slugger C.J. Cron off waivers from Tampa Bay to play first base, and more questionable still when Minnesota later added both Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez to their projected 25-man roster, closing additional opportunities at designated hitter and in first-base depth.

Austin fought for playing time with the Yankees for several years -- going up and down between the Majors and Minors in 2016, '17 and '18 -- but this year's situation is slightly different because his future with the Twins' organization could be in question, as he would need to be exposed to waivers before being assigned to the Minor Leagues. But he isn't letting that affect his approach this spring.

"I haven’t thought about that at all," Austin said. "I can’t control any of that stuff, so I can just control what I’m doing on the field. I hadn’t put too much thought into it. I’ve been in positions over the last couple years where I’m fighting to make the team, so there’s no pressure on me."

He sure hasn't acted like there's any pressure on him this spring, as Baldelli spoke highly of Austin's energy and attitude in the clubhouse despite the uncertainty in his future.

"He has a tremendous way about him," Baldelli said. "He fits very easily into a clubhouse with a bunch of guys. He keeps everybody loose. On top of all the hits -- which are very important and pretty impressive and everything -- he’s a tremendous individual as well."

Austin can't worry about any of that now, anyway, as he's focused on fixing the contact point of his swing, staying behind the ball more and trying to use more consistent playing time to help his eye at the plate click. Anything else is out of his control.

"I’ve been seeing the ball pretty well," Austin said. "Hopefully I can continue that throughout the course of the spring and on to the season, but like you said about the roster, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just coming in and having fun and enjoying the opportunity that’s presented to me."

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.