Brandon Drury has finally escaped Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His frustration had been well documented by his comments to the media, but not by his play. Drury has hit a robust .314/.419/.488 for the RailRiders so far in 2018.
Drury was traded for as an insurance policy in case rookie Miguel Andujar was not ready to play every day at the major league level. Luckily for everyone except Drury, Andujar has been wonderful so far in 2018. Despite his competition flourishing, Drury finds himself in New York. Partly due to addressing his blurry vision/migraine issues, but also because of the adjustments he has made so far in Scranton.
One of those adjustments is that he has been more selective at the plate. It’s worth noting that Drury was a pretty good hitter in Arizona. He hit 37 doubles with the Diamondbacks in 2017, but his wRC+ was only 92. His poor overall offensive numbers can be attributed to his inability to draw walks. His measly 5.8 BB% lead to a not great .317 OBP.
As we’ve seen several Yankees position players do in recent years, Drury has become more patient since joining the organization. So far this season in Triple-A, Drury’s walk percentage is up to 14.5%, leading to an improved OBP of .417. His improved plate discipline goes deeper than just a few walks. He’s swinging at less pitches outside of the zone (O-Swing% down 10%), and more pitches inside the zone (Z-Swing% up 6%).
His batted ball quality has improved this year as well. While he’s not hitting the ball noticeably harder, his average exit velocity in 2018 is 88.7 mph, just above his career mark of 88.3 and right around major league average. He is hitting the ball better. What I mean by that is he’s hitting the ball in the air more, as he has raised his average launch angle from 7.4 degrees to 14.1 degrees in one season. He has also raised his xWOBA from .317 to .390. For some context that’s the difference between hitting the ball like Jose Altuve (.388 xWOBA) and hitting the ball like Robinson Chirinos (.315 xWOBA).
So what does Drury’s future with the team look like? It’s hard to tell. What’s particularly frustrating about his situation is that there isn’t much he can do. He’s already playing as well as anyone could realistically expect. If Miguel Andujar falls into a long slump, he is certainly next in line, but Drury’s future is more likely intertwined with Neil Walker’s. As bad as Walker has been (43 wRC+), I don’t see him getting designated for assignment in favor of Drury. Walker provides more defensive utility in a backup role with his ability to play second base and switch hit. Consistent at-bats in Triple-A will be better for Drury’s development in the long run, anyway.
It’s entirely possible that this call up was a short-term solution to three left-handed starters in a row, and that another stint in Triple-A is on the horizon for Brandon Drury. This could also be a sort of trial for Drury, to see if his bat really is major league ready (Chris Sale is a tough draw though). It seems increasingly likely that the Yankees are going to trade for a starting pitcher, and one of Andujar or Drury will probably need to be included in any sort of package.