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Player Preview – Miguel Andujar

Of all the Yankee position players, the uncertainty surrounding Miguel Andujar is perhaps the greatest. His bat is very good and could be great. His defense is terrible at third and we have no idea if he can play the outfield (first base was a disaster and it seems the Yankees have moved on from that experiment).

The question I am looking to determine is where Andujar will see the bulk of his playing time in 2020.

Miguel Andujar’s rookie season in 2018 at the age of 23 was fantastic. He hit .297/.328/.527. He only struck out 16% of the time which compensated for his miserable walk rate (4%). His isolated power of .230 was terrific and he hit 27 home runs. Those are fantastic numbers for a rookie. This kid can hit. If he can match, or better, those numbers, he’ll have to be given significant playing time.

On the other hand, his defense was abysmal. His UZR/150 was -24.5, placing him dead last out of 19 qualifying third basemen. The second worst player at third base had a -9.2 (Colin Moran). Said differently, Andujar’s defense cost the Yankees 21 runs (also an MLB worst). Andujar only played 12 games in 2019 due to an injury to his right shoulder. He had surgery in May which shut him down for the season. Gio Urshela, his replacement last season, had a -3.4 rating. That difference is (obviously) gigantic.

I should also point out the obvious – third base is very difficult to play. It is one of the more challenging positions on the diamond. Third base is only 90 feet from home plate. The ball arrives there very quickly. Elite reaction time is at a premium. Getting significantly better there may be impossible for Miguel Andujar. To a certain extent, you either have the reflexes or you do not.

Heading into 2020, Miguel Andujar has been working on his third base defense but with Gio Urshela playing so well in 2019, the Yankees have been trying Andujar out in various positions as a way to get him playing time. If Urshela performs anywhere near the level of his 2019 season, i t seems that the outfield is where Andujar find his home for much of the upcoming season. Interest in his outfield play has only intensified with the injuries to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.

Learning the outfield is also not trivial. A player needs to be able to tell where the ball will land when it leaves the bat and be able to run in a straight line to that spot. The player also needs to learn how to catch balls close to the outfield wall without running into it at full tilt. And, of course, different parks have different configurations. Learning to deal with the sun is also a required skill. All of this is to say, that a player, like Andujar, who is challenged defensively, might not perform well in the outfield either. Some people think it’s a given that he’ll do well as an outfielder. I am not so sure.

I have a high degree of skepticism that Miguel Andujar will be able to play the outfield any better than he can play third base, at least any time soon. I do think that the outfield is more a of a learned skill and that he can get better over time. Of course, Major League baseball players usually have several years to do this in the minor leagues before playing the position in the majors. The Yankees are hoping that Andujar can learn this skill in real time. I don’t think he can.

I’m guessing that we will be seeing an outfield that consists mostly of Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier, and Mike Tauchman until Stanton and/or Judge get healthy. During this time, Andujar may play some left field to spell the regulars (hopefully with an extreme groundball pitcher on the mound). When that occurs, I’m guessing we’ll all be on the edge of our seats those days – at least when the ball is hit in Andujar’s direction.

If Andujar cannot manage to play at a serviceable level in the outfield, he will be stuck at DH. He has a dynamic bat, and with the losses of Stanton and Judge, in the end, the lineup will need him.

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