Austin Kearns hasn’t exactly lived up to the expectations bestowed upon him ever since he finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting with the Reds in 2002.
But now that he’s playing for a contender in New York, Kearns, who turned 30 in May, looks like he’s rejuvenated an unsatisfying career.
In 11 games with the Yankees since being traded (along with Kerry Wood) from the Indians on July 30, Kearns is hitting .355 (11-for-31) with five RBIs. He’s recorded at least one hit in each of his last eight games, including a mammoth 402-foot home run in New York’s 4-3 victory over the Royals on Aug. 12.
Always a dangerous power hitter, Kearns was drafted by Cincinnati seventh overall as an 18-year-old out of high school in the 1998 draft. In his rookie season, Kearns hit 13 home runs and drove in 56 in just 372 at-bats, posting an impressive .315 average and .907 OPS.
But his career never panned out. Plagued by various injuries, Kearns played just 82 games in 2003 and 60 games in 2004, hitting .264 and .230, respectively. He was traded to Washington in the middle of the 2006 season, and stayed with the cellar-dwelling Nationals until the end of the 2009 season before signing with Cleveland.
Kearns has never come close to playing in the postseason, but he will undoubtedly have his first shot in 2010 with New York.
When the Yankees are healthy, they have four legitimate starting outfielders in Kearns, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher.
Kearns, a right-handed hitter, will most likely platoon with either Gardner or Granderson — both lefties — in the outfield down the stretch and into the playoffs. That could prove to be huge for the Yankees, who are undoubtedly going to have to face a tough southpaw in the playoffs at some point, whether it’s Texas’ Cliff Lee or C.J. Wilson, Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano or Tampa Bay’s David Price.
If the Yankees make a deep October run — and Kearns is right in the middle of it — the once-promising young slugger could become an attractive, veteran free agent this winter.