In 2011 the Yankees drafted Sam Stafford with their 2nd round draft pick. He didn’t sign because he had shoulder issues and was not as healthy as advertised. As a result of that, the Yankees received a compensation pick in the 2012 2nd round. They used this extra pick to draft a then 18 year old Austin Aune. Seen as a possible 5-tool player at the time Aune was initially drafted as an outfielder, despite playing shortstop in high school. The Yankees felt he had the tools to be an impact outfielder long term. As crazy as it sounds, Aune could turn the injury to Sam Stafford into one of those great “what if” moments (like “what if” Derek Jeter was drafted before the Yankees pick?).
Shortstop wasn’t the only thing Austin Aune was set to abandon at the time of his signing, which was for $1 million. He also had to abandon his dreams of being a Division I quarterback for Texas Christian University (TCU). He was given a full ride by TCU and at the time of his signing had actually began to practice with the football team (which undoubtedly increased his leverage).
Performance: Before being drafted by the Yankees last season, Aune threw for 3,500 yards and 42 touchdowns during the 2011 high school football season, and followed that performance with a .447 average and eight homeruns in the spring for the baseball team. After signing with the Yankees, he played for the rookie league GCL team. He batted .273/.358/.410 with one homerun there and five steals. He struck out too much and had a whopping 15 errors on the season though.
Tools: This signing was all about athleticism. Let’s face it Aune had to have been a hell of an athlete to throw 42 touchdowns and hit eight homeruns in the same year. Now that he’ll be able to focus all of his efforts on baseball, there’s no telling what his true ceiling will be. Athleticism, however, is not his only calling card.
Speed/Range: His speed is solid, but at his size unlikely to be maintained long term. He has enough quickness to have good range at shortstop. He managed to steal five bases in 2012, but he also got caught five times. He could really go either way on this one, but if I had to predict I would say the speed goes away.
Power: Aune is a big, strong kid who can hit the ball a long way. He still has room to grow into his body though, and he really has the potential to become a powerhouse if things break right. His swing has some serious loft to it, and is much more polished than the rest of his game.
Hit tool: The hit tool is there as well. He has an excellent “all fields” approach and has good contact skills. The strikeouts were excessive in the GCL, but coming from a kid who never played baseball full time before, the significance of that statistic in just his first season is negligible. If he is able to stick at shortstop, his lefty swing could be one of a kind.
Hands: As a shortstop, this is the aspect of Aune’s game that needs the most work. He had 15 errors in his first season, but he still has time to learn the position. It is actually quite unlikely that he sticks at shortstop, but his success is not tied to that position. He can hit more than well enough to play outfield.
Projection: 19 year old kids are hard to project, because the ceiling is always as high as the floor is low. In Austin’s case, a realistic ceiling would be a guy who sticks at shortstop and hits .300 with 20 homeruns per year. The floor is obvious: total bust. My prediction, as always, lies in between the two extremes: solid everyday outfielder.
2013: He’ll likely start in Staten Island. He probably breaks out and hits .320 with 6-8 home runs at that level, officially making a name for himself. Shortstop will continue to be a work in progress for him, but with some improvement, he’ll buy himself another year at the position. With a season like that, he could move from a ranking of 31 to top 10 in one season.
Austin Aune is one of the less heralded prospects in the Yankees system right now. He is especially overshadowed by fellow draftee Ty Hensley. Aune could really come out of nowhere and surprise the prospect world this year. You have to be realistic about a guy like him though. He’s still only 19 years old and has his whole career ahead of him. A lot can go wrong and there is a high rate of failure even amongst the top prospects in the game. To keep in in perspective, Aune is nowhere near that level yet, so you can imagine where his odds are at this point in his career.
All of that said, I am hopeful that Aune can break out this season. I didn’t write this article about him as a breakout candidate for nothing after all. He’s got all the tools and his bat is for real. His ceiling is immense and he will be one of the most exciting prospects to watch in 2013.