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Yankees 2020 Season Preview: Miguel Andujar

After a lost season in 2019, positional flexibility can be Andujar’s ticket to playing time

New York Yankees v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There are two central questions surrounding Miguel Andujar’s upcoming season: How much will he play? And where?

The runner-up to Shohei Ohtani for the 2018 Rookie of the Year Award had a lost season in 2019, sidelined early on by a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required season-ending surgery.

2019 Stats: 49 PA, .128/.143/.128, 0 HR, 1 RBI, -36 wRC+, 22.4 K%, 2.0% BB%, -1.0 fWAR

2020 Depth Charts Projection: 490 PA, .267/.305/.460, 19 HR, 69 RBI, 98 wRC+, 16.9 K%, 4.7 BB%, 0.5 fWAR

In truth, there’s little to be gleaned from Andujar’s 2019 line, so let’s keep in mind his outstanding 2018 when assessing his potential for this year: a .297/.328/.597 slash line, with 27 home runs and 92 RBI in 606 plate appearances. That was good for a 130 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR. He also gained a reputation as a doubles machine—his mark of 47 set a franchise rookie record, besting Joe DiMaggio—which cemented his status as a fan favorite.

But there were obvious warts. He was literally the worst defensive third baseman in the major leagues in 2018, according to Outs Above Average. That defensive weakness naturally puts a cap on his overall value. Consider this: in 2018, there were 45 players who had a wRC+ between 120 and 140. That’s very good offensive production! The median fWAR among that group was 3.9, a full win better than Andujar. His defense has clearly put him behind his offensive peers.

Put another way: Andujar’s 2019 replacement at third base, Gio Urshela, had a comparable offensive season (132 wRC+) and was worth slightly more overall (3.1 fWAR). However, he played considerably less than Andujar did in 2018 (476 plate appearances versus 606). If you prorated Urshela’s fWAR over 606 plate appearances, it would be, you guessed it, 3.9!

So the challenge for the Yankees is clear: how can they reap the benefit of Andujar’s bat while limiting the defensive drag on his overall value? Sounds like the answer is to make him the designated hitter, right?

The issue with that is the number of players the Yankees will want to use at DH in order to prevent wear and tear on their bodies. Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez all figure to see at least some time at designated hitter this year. That could severely cut into Andujar’s at-bats.

To counter that reality, and the fact that Urshela has rightfully usurped him as the everyday third baseman, he’s been working out in the outfield and first base this spring to increase his positional flexibility. That should open more avenues to playing time.

In 11 spring games, Andujar has featured in the outfield seven times (six in left, one in right), at third base three times, and at first base just once. Encouragingly, he hasn’t looked like a fish out of water in the outfield and has earned praise from the coaching staff for his work there. He did make an error fielding a throw in his only game at first base, leading to speculation that the Yankees would abandon their plans to use him at the position, though he has continued taking grounders there.

Andujar’s efforts this spring point to one of his most overlooked qualities: he works his butt off. For a player facing what is, quite honestly, a crucial year in determining the course of his career, that should work to his benefit. If he can play a passable outfield, fill in when necessary at third base and collect as many DH at-bats as possible, he should provide the Yankees with exactly the sort of dependable bat that teams crave.

And that represents another potential avenue for Andujar and the Yankees. He was mentioned frequently during the offseason as a possible trade chip, and fans should expect his name will continue to be thrown around leading up to the deadline if injuries, particularly in the pitching staff, remain an issue.

But I suspect the Yankees’ primary hope is that Andujar carves out a valuable niche as a multi-position option and makes good on his offensive potential. Fans should, too. He’s the kind of player for whom it’s easy to root.