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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Miguel Andújar

The once-Rookie of the Year runner-up has fallen from his 2018 heights, and his future in pinstripes is cloudier than ever.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Following Miguel Andújar’s breakout rookie season, it seemed as though his worst-case scenario was to become a super-sub, providing instant offense off the bench or in an occasional start as the designated hitter, if his porous glove never came around. Instead, his defensive follies have continued, while his offensive output has all but dried up.

Aaron Boone has said that Andújar will take reps in the infield and outfield during spring training, but probably won’t have a firm slot on the Yankees’ big league roster until there are a couple of injuries and his bat gets hot. Inevitably, he’ll spend a little time in the bigs at some point, but it might not be for long without a major development in his game or regression to those rostered ahead of him.

2020 Stats: 65 PA, .242/.277/.355, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 13.8 K%, 4.6 BB%, 71 wRC+, -0.5 WAR

2021 ZiPS Projections: 498 PA, .267/.301/.450, 17 HR, 66 RBI, 17.1 K%, 4.4 BB%, 94 wRC+, 0.6 WAR

In addition to the significant personnel obstacles between Andújar and playing time in the Bronx, he’ll need to make some radical adjustments at the plate and in the field in order to recapture at least a sample of the production he flashed during his rookie season.

In my breakdowns of Andújar’s early-season woes, I explained how his flawed swing mechanics put a hard-cap on the utility of his elite bat-to-ball talent, and the depths of his defensive ineptitude. By cutting across the zone instead of allowing the barrel to flow through it, Andújar shrinks any margin for error in terms of making solid contact with a pitch. On the other side of the ball, his poor footwork often puts him in an awful spot to make a play on the ball, and he lacks the smooth glovework to make up for his improper positioning. In my season report card on him, I explained how the aforementioned limitations all over the diamond rendered him unplayable in 2020.

If the automated ZiPS projection of 498 Andújar plate appearances pans out, then something has gone terribly wrong elsewhere on the Yankees. Gio Urshela’s limited range makes him a worse defender than his Gold Glove nomination might suggest, but his sure hands and steady arm mean that he’s a much better option than Andújar. Offensively, it’s not even close, as Urshela has solidified himself as one of the better-hitting third basemen in baseball.

Almost exactly the same can be said for Luke Voit at first, and even Clint Frazier in left, in comparison to Andújar on both sides of the ball. He obviously won’t DH ahead of Giancarlo Stanton, so the opportunity to play there will only occur if Stanton misses a majority of the regular season for a third straight season. (Even then, Boone might prefer an alignment that allows him to play his regular outfielders plus Brett Gardner in some fashion.) Steady playing time for Andújar means that at least some combination of those four players combined for almost a season’s worth of missed playing time, which isn’t impossible considering their respective injury histories, but would definitely be bad for the Yankees on the whole.

If Andújar gets hot in the minors and is forced to step in for an injured Yankee, he’ll need to clean up his defense or his mechanics to stick in the lineup for an extended period of time and present a positive benefit to the team. Unfortunately for him, with three years of injuries and poor performance separating his breakout from the present day, the Yankees’ best-case scenario is in direct conflict with one depicting Andújar’s brightest future in pinstripes.

Still, the Yankees would be best served in the long run by trying to shine him up in the minors, showcase him while he’s hot, and ideally nabbing a prospect or a pitcher in return for his services. He likely needs a longer runway than the Yankees can offer him to work his way back to major league viability and hopefully make the most of his legitimately rare talents. At age 25, Andújar is entering what should be the prime of his career, and needs to be moved now if the Yankees are interested in extracting his full value.