Barring further injuries, or sudden loss of ability, the Yankees’ Opening Day depth chart is almost set in stone. Every position player slot is pretty much a lock except for the designated hitter. The battle for the last open spot in the batting order figures to be the most intriguing positional storyline of spring training. One player appears to have set himself apart in that competition.
Miguel Andujar and Mike Tauchman will duke it out for the remainder of spring for that final spot. If Andujar is chosen, Giancarlo Stanton will be the primary left fielder while Andujar gets his reps at designated hitter. Should Tauchman win out, he will man left while Stanton becomes the primary DH. Through his accomplishments last season, Tauchman appears to be the superior choice.
Much in the same vein as Gio Urshela and Luke Voit, the Yankees’ scouting department uncovered a hidden gem in Tauchman. And like Urshela and Voit, the hitting coaches polished him into a finished product. Tauchman greatly increased his launch angle, exit velocity, and hard hit percentage after joining the Yankees, albeit compared to small sample sizes in his previous two big league seasons. Still, these adjustments paid massive dividends for the outfielder.
In just over half a season of games, Mike Tauchman established himself as a productive asset at the plate. With an OPS of .865 and a wRC+ and OPS+ of 128, Tauchman proved he is an above-average hitter once given a consistent run of at-bats. He certainly qualifies as the potent lefty bat many fans are clamoring for.
Tauchman’s greatest strength, however, is his defensive excellence. Simply put, he is an elite outfielder. Amongst qualified outfielders, he ranked ninth in outs above average (9) and tied for first in defensive runs saved (10) despite playing far fewer games than other qualified candidates. He also totaled the highest UZR (6.3) and accordingly the highest UZR/150 (19.1) of left fielders with at least 450 innings played, an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the relative lack of games played.
Tauchman’s defensive acumen stands in stark contrast to the man with whom he is competing. Miguel Andujar’s defensive shortcomings are well documented. He ranked 126th out of 129 qualified infielders in outs above average (-11) in 2018. He also committed fifteen errors and early returns show his throwing motion has not changed.
I’m not sold on Andujar’s ability to learn left field or first base, as he hasn’t shown competency at third let alone a new position. Moreover, Luke Voit is more valuable to the team at first base, and either of Tauchman or Stanton are more valuable in left. Andujar is a relative unknown coming into this season, and more recent production is a better predictor of future performance.
Also hurting Andujar’s case is the Yankees’ use of DH as a rotating rest spot. During the games when Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, etc. get a half-day’s rest at DH, the Yankees would probably rather keep Stanton’s bat in the lineup over either Tauchman or Andujar. Stanton is certainly a more competent fielder in left, where he totaled two outs above average in 2018, than Andujar is at third or in left.
Using Tauchman as the primary left fielder is also a long term move to preserve Stanton’s health. Despite his capacity to play left, Stanton would experience less wear and tear over a full season at DH. The Yankees would line up their best defensive arrangement in the outfield while still maintaining Stanton’s bat and and protecting his contract.
The final piece of the puzzle lies with the fact that Tauchman is out of minor league options. After he showed the payoff of being provided consistent at-bats, the Yankees cannot afford to stash him in the lower levels and risk losing him on waivers. Additionally, Andujar’s service time can be protected if he starts in minors. While it feels dirty to advocate for service time manipulation, it is an option that Andujar has and Tauchman does not.
Miguel Andujar’s bat is an advantage that every MLB team should covet. However, his defensive weaknesses and Gio Urshela’s emergence shoehorn him into a primary DH role. The Yankees can field a stronger lineup overall with Stanton as the DH and Mike Tauchman playing left field. Tauchman proved in 2019 that he can be instrumental to the Yankees’ plans with his rare combination of offensive potential and defensive brilliance.