Part I in a series analyzing the New York Yankees
Entering spring training of 2019, Miguel Andujar had worked extensively on becoming a better all-around fielding third baseman.
A lot had been made of Andujar’s 15 errors in 136 games (132 starts) in 2018 at third, but the offseason work focused on improving footwork and pre-pitch preparation. The Yankees believed progress in those areas would allow Andujar to get to more ground balls.
Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado committed 14 errors in 152 games (140 starts) and won the sixth of seven straight NL Gold Gloves in 2018.
And of course there was Andujar’s bat, which before he reached the big leagues had been touted as above average by some and elite by others.
In Andujar’s first full big-league season (2018), the 23-year-old finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year to Angels’ two-way player Shohei Ohtani by hitting .297 with 27 homers, 92 RBIs and an .855 OPS.
“He was a guy who used all the fields and hit with power,’’ a scout said of the 2018 version of Andujar. “Defensively he couldn’t get his feet set and couldn’t get his arm in a consistent slot.’’
Now, after playing in a dozen games at the start of the 2019 season, undergoing surgery to repair a right labrum tear in May and the emergence of Gio Urshela at third, Andujar’s role with the Yankees was going to change this year.
Should there be a season, expect Urshela to be the regular third baseman at the beginning, with Andujar playing third, left field — which he did in spring training — DH and possibly surface at first base, where he played a game in March. Of course all of that moving around will depend on Andujar’s shoulder being fully healed, which appeared to be the case in spring training.
How Urshela plays will impact Andujar’s role. Always known as a strong defender, the 28-year-old Urshela hit .314 with 21 homers, 74 RBIs and posted an .889 OPS in 132 games. In 167 games from 2015-18, Urshela hit .225 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and had a .589 OPS with the Indians and Blue Jays.
The question is: Can Urshela repeat or come close to duplicating those numbers? If he does, the 6-foot, 211-pound Andujar will require a number of different gloves to play positions that are foreign to him and already filled.
With Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman and possibly Clint Frazier, the Yankees have left field covered, but Stanton could see a lot of DH action. With the right-handed hitting Luke Voit and lefty-swinging Mike Ford at first, there isn’t a need there, and D.J. LeMahieu handled the position well in 40 games (28 starts) last year.
At 25, Andujar is young for full-time DH work. However, if healthy, he would be hard to keep out of the lineup with a bat people believe is elite and can reproduce its 2018 output.