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An interview with 2018 Paul Owens Award winner Austin Listi

The top offensive player in the organization is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League.

Austin Listi, Reading Fightins
Jay Floyd,

When the 2018 season began, infielder/outfielder Austin Listi was just looking forward to playing his first full season of professional baseball. Drafted in the 17th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of Dallas Baptist University, Listi entered last year as a 24-year-old infielder/outfielder with no set position, headed to play Single-A ball with the Clearwater Threshers.

Six months later, Listi had earned a promotion to Double-A Reading and hit a combined .312 with a .915 OPS, 18 HRs, 25 doubles and 84 RBIs in 507 PAs, earning him one half of the 2018 Paul Owens Award, given to the minor league position player and pitcher who had the best seasons in the organization.

That is quite an eventful 2018 season, and Listi talked to me on the latest episode of Hittin’ Season about the award and his outstanding year in the Phils organization.

“It was a huge honor [to receive the Paul Owens Award],” Listi said. “I was very surprised, mainly because I didn’t know this was an award. This being my first full season, I didn’t know a lot about what awards are out there. I just didn’t know. So when I got the call, it was humbling. It was awesome. All glory to God and what he’s blessed me with.”

Listi, who will turn 25 on November 5, has never been on any Phillies top prospects lists (although that could change this winter), but he put himself on the team’s radar with his outstanding offensive season this year, and earned a trip to the competitive Arizona Fall League as well as to the AFL’s All-Star Game.

He played all over the diamond this year, logging time at first base, third base, left field and right field, although prospect watchers aren’t sure what position he would play were he to reach the Majors. Listi, however, says he doen’t have a preference.

“Whatever keeps me in the lineup, doesn’t matter to me. As long as I’m hitting, doing my part to help the team in some way, I’m happy. I’m comfortable in all those positions I’ve played.”

He has struggled a bit at the plate, numbers-wise, in the AFL. In 13 games, playing solely as an outfielder, Listi has a slash line of .163/.186/.250 with a .436 OPS, with just one extra-base hits. However, he says things are going a lot better than the stats would indicate.

“It’s going really good. I’m having great at-bats, hitting a lot of balls hard. Some things aren’t going my way, but I’m winning at-bats, winning counts, and having great at-bats and having a lot of fun.”

One thing Listi could have going for him is his ability to avoid strikeouts, a big bugaboo for the big league club. Last year, he struck out in just 20.6% of his plate appearances for Reading and walked 11.1% of the time. And he says that’s no accident.

“I hate striking out. I don’t go into my at-bats thinking I’m going to or trying to avoid it, but it’s gonna happen. I do my best to put the ball in play and put it in play with authority.”

Listi graduated from Dallas Baptist University and played short-season ball with Lakewood and Williamsport last year, so with this being his first full season of pro ball, and now an extended fall of playing ball in Arizona, he said he’s looking forward to enjoying a restful off-season.

“This is my first full season and, going through it, I was more mentally drained than physically drained. When I get home from Arizona, I’m going to shut it down mentally, for a while. I’ll start working out pretty quick.

“My off-season is going to have a lot of working out, a lot of hunting, a lot of golf, and most importantly spending time with my wife and baby.”