Once one of the most promising members of the new wave of Baby Bombers whose arrival appeared to extend the Yankees’ window of contention, Miguel Andújar has fallen further into obscurity following another campaign lost to injury. He is now three seasons removed from his stellar 2018 rookie campaign, and the combination of injury, defensive ineptitude, and offensive regression means that the 26-year-old has no clear path back to the majors and no clear spot in the Yankees’ future plans.
2021 Statistics (MLB): 45 games, 162 PA, .253/.284/.383, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 4.3% BB%, 17.3% K%, 82 OPS+, 81 wRC+, -1 OAA, -0.2 fWAR
2021 Statistics (Triple-A): 16 games, 63 PA, .333/.397/.630, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 11.1% BB%, 9.5% K%, 166 wRC+
2022 Contract Status: Entering first year of arbitration eligibility, one minor league option remaining
At the conclusion of the 2018 season, it appeared that the Yankees had their third baseman of the future. Yes, he was a free-swinger, and yes, the defense was a liability. However, Miguel Andújar’s impressive bat-to-ball skills and gap-to-gap power helped him break Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees rookie doubles record, led him to a second-place AL Rookie of the Year finish behind Shohei Ohtani, and seemed to put a vice grip on the third base job. Then injury struck.
Andújar missed all but 12 games in 2019 with a torn labrum. He couldn’t recover his swing in time to be productive in the 2020 and spent the majority of the season at the Alternate Training Site. And this season, a left wrist injury limited him to just 45 games in the big leagues and 16 games at the end of the season with Triple-A. In the meantime, Gio Urshela’s good glove and decent bat supplanted Andújar from any shot at reclaiming the starting job at the hot corner.
Speaking of defense, Andújar’s complete inability to field at third — 15 errors, -21 DRS, -16 UZR, -8 OAA in 2018 — meant he had to learn a new position for any chance to break back onto the major league roster. The left field experiment was ... an adventure as he committed an error and was worth -1 DRS, -1.2 UZR, and -2 OAA in just 306.1 innings and 78 attempts. First base went a little better, with DRS and UZR assigning a neutral grade and OAA crediting him with one out above average. He’ll never be a defensive wizard, but in limited action in 2021, he showed he can do a serviceable job.
The real discussion regarding Andújar revolves around his bat and if he can reclaim any of the magic of his 2018 season. As a free-swinger — his 55.3 percent swing rate was in the 94th percentile among batters with at least 160 plate appearances — he relies on quality of contact and luck for offensive production. The problem with a BABIP-driven OBP is that as soon as the hits stop falling, he turns into a net negative at the plate.
And that’s exactly what happened to Andújar in 2021, driven in large part by the concerning drop in average launch angle from 12.5 degrees in 2018 to only 6.1 degrees in 2021, leading to a career-high 52.8-percent groundball rate (I’m not counting his five-game cup of coffee in 2017). At his best, Andújar was spraying line drives from foul line to foul line, and too many of those turned into harmless groundballs in 2021.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Andújar however. There are several encouraging trends from 2021 that suggest at least a partial return to form. With regard to batted ball quality, Andújar’s average exit velocity, max exit velocity, hard-hit rate, barrel rate, and sweet-spot rate all trended toward their 2018 levels after taking a nosedive in 2019-20. Additionally, in the plate discipline department, his zone-swing rate, zone-contact rate, chase rate, and whiff rate rebounded in a similar fashion. In other words, he was doing a better job of recognizing good pitches to swing at, and was beginning to impact them with the authority we saw in 2018.
To be honest, I have no idea what the future holds for Andújar. He has to demonstrate that he can stay on the field if he wants to reclaim a permanent spot on the major league roster. Entering his first year of arbitration, MLB Trade Rumors projects him to earn an eminently affordable $1.7 million in 2022, and with a minor league option remaining, it’s hard to see the Yankees non-tendering him this winter.
However, with Urshela still the first-choice option at third, Joey Gallo now in the fold, and Giancarlo Stanton expected to take the lion’s share of DH opportunities, the only real path to a starting job would be at first base. It’s an intriguing scenario to be sure, with Luke Voit a perennial injury question mark and Anthony Rizzo set to command quite a bit more on the free agent market than Andújar’s projected 2022 salary. It all depends on how comfortable the Yankees feel with Andújar’s newly-learned first base skillset.
One has to feel bad for Miguel Andújar. Injuries have ravaged what could have been a brilliant opening act to his major league career. His 45 games played in 2021 means he can only be assigned an Incomplete grade for the season. Both he and the Yankees will be hoping for a fully healthy season in 2022. After all, their offense is a more well-rounded and dangerous unit with Miggy Two-Bags lining doubles to all fields.