San Bernardino, California —— Entering play on Wednesday night, Arizona Diamondbacks first base prospect Austin Byler is slashing .250/.325/.395/.720 over 91 games for the California League‘s Visalia Rawhide, with 24 doubles, six triples, four home runs, and 35 walks against 103 strikeouts over 332 at-bats. I’ve observed the University of Nevada product several times throughout both 2016 and 2017 in Visalia; below is Baseball Census‘ full Austin Byler scouting report, including several videos.
Austin Byler Scouting Report — Video
We’ve got several videos of Austin Byler from several different angles. Below, here is our whole series on the Arizona Diamondbacks prospect:
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Austin Byler Scouting Report — Notes
A Nevada Wolf Pack product, Austin Byler has had an eventful few years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, from utterly dominating rookie ball to being suspended for a performance-enhancing drug violation, to repeating in High-A Visalia, and now, to finally succeeding in High-A and seemingly turning a major corner in his career. His power has yet to manifest itself like it maybe ought to for a corner infielder, and he hasn’t yet proven he can consistently hit the ball over the fence in game action, but he’s a solid gap-to-gap line drive hitter who will get his fair share of doubles and can particularly go the other way with authority to left-center field. He can get rigid at the plate at times, though, and struggles to stay fluid through the ball with good bat speed, especially with pitches on the inner half.
Lost at the plate early on in 2017, Byler made some major mental adjustments and also closed off his front hip slightly longer to produce more leverage in his swing mid-season in Visalia. The result has been a vastly improved ability to hit for average, with some added pop too (again, mostly of the gap-to-gap variety). He’s a big, strong kid though and so one would hope more over-the-fence pop will produce itself in the coming years. Until then, he’s proven to have a pretty good awareness of the strike zone, and even though he’ll strike out a fair amount, Austin Byler has good plate coverage and generally takes pretty competitive at-bats.
In fact, here’s Austin Byler—in his own words—about the mechanical adjustments he’s made at the plate:
“I was chasing a lot early this year,” he told me a few weeks ago. “A lot. Trying to do too much. Just chasing too much and trying to get big instead of just letting the ball come to me. It was more me trying to rush to the ball rather than really seeing it and simplifying things. In the cages, I was flying open a little too early with my hips. I’ve added a little bit of a hip coil to stay back and then have them come through when they should. That was my physical adjustment in the cage.”
Defensively, he’s likely limited to first base—or, long term, potentially left field—with his foot speed and arm strength, both of which are at or below average, but he’s a smooth enough infielder there and does well for himself at the position. Ultimately, he’ll need to hit enough, and for power, to retain a first base role as he moves up the ladder with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Austin Byler Scouting Report — Projection
It’s heartening to see Austin Byler finally turn things around at the plate in Visalia the second half of this year after a tough few months both at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. His mental maturity and ability to handle adversity is off the charts considering that and his redemption after a suspension earlier in his career; as far as the minor league grind is concerned, he’ll be well-served to deal with more of the day-to-day challenges of playing the game thanks to his mindset and work ethic.
Beyond that, though, the Arizona Diamondbacks prospect without question must hit for more over-the-fence power to become an attractive Major League prospect. Byler himself knows that, of course. With good raw strength and a physical frame, he’ll give himself a chance to do so. If he does in the next year or two, Byler might turn himself into a fringe first base prospect (or considering who the Diamondbacks have at first base in the big leagues right now, an interesting trade candidate). Regardless, that’ll be the story for Austin Byler moving forward: it’s not a deal-breaker that he has yet to show above-average power—home runs often show late in prospects—but his future in baseball will go as far as his power bat will take him.