The #NextManUp mentality was a calling card of the 2019 Yankees season. Miguel Andujar was a Rookie of the Year finalist in 2018, and the eyes of the Yankee universe were on just how he’d answer all that pressure in 2019. On April 2nd, he tore his labrum, putting him on the shelf for the year and giving the starting third base job to Mr. Gio Urshela.
For half a season, Urshela was even better than his replacement, with a 117 wRC+ and league-average defense. The fault in Andujar’s game has always been the defensive side, and Urshela seemed to balance that with a good, if not great, glove and a perfectly serviceable stick.
In the second half of the season, Urshela was even better offensively, with a 148 wRC+ bolstered by an unexpected power stroke. The cracks did start to show though, as his K-BB% climbed from 10% in the first half to 16.3% in the second. Each of Urshela’s batted balls may be doing more damage, but the underlying peripherals showed that his performance may be more concerning after all.
On the defensive side, his performance was always fine if not spectacular. The regular considerations around defensive stats apply to him, but that aside, his .954 fielding percentage at third base was in line with the .960 mark he has for his career. Urshela’s -4 DRS/-2.5 UZR/150, though, reflects just how mediocre he is at the hot corner. These measures are far better than Andujar’s play at the same position, but the way we look at Urshela is so clouded by our impressions of Andujar that we assign a far more capable label to the former third baseman than we do the latter.
If Urshela were to repeat his 2019 performance next season, he’s a more viable option at the hot corner, but those peripherals we talked about cast some doubts on his ability to repeat:
Both Urshela and Andujar will have a smidgen over one year of service time, and so there’s no real comparative advantage in keeping one player in the minors over another. Urshela was marginally more valuable in 2019 than Andujar was in 2018, but so much of that distinction going forward comes down to whether you think Andujar is going to be better in his “true” sophomore season than his rookie campaign.
The other complication is a relative lack of enthusiasm on the Yankees’ end to move either player around the diamond. Urshela played just five innings away from third base in 2019, despite a track record at second and first, and the Yankees don’t seem to be signaling a shift to first for Andujar. It looks like the team will have a potential redundancy at the hot corner.
Gio Urshela, perhaps more than any Yankee, was emblematic of the #NextManUp mantra. A career meh infielder who either discovered a power stroke or just got really hot for two months, he made Yankee fans nearly forget about the Rookie of the Year runner-up. With Miguel Andujar hot on the track to recovery, the Urshela plan is one of the Yankees’ more fascinating strategies over the winter and beyond.