When Todd Frazier signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Mets earlier this week, the first thing that came to my mind was “wow, the Yankees must really like Miguel Andujar.” Frazier has his flaws, but as Matt P. noted in his discussion of the signing, at his current price tag he has considerable surplus value, and signing him to a similar contract would have provided the Yankees with a quality starting infielder in case Andujar struggled or Bird sustained an injury. That the Yankees declined to do so says to me that they believe Andujar can hit the ground running and be a credible regular in his first full season in the majors.
Given the Yankees' incredible recent successes in player development, I'd be a fool to dismiss that possibility outright. But as we saw with Aaron Judge and Luis Severino in 2016, even uber-talented prospects can struggle, so it would also be unwise to pencil in a 2-3 WAR season for Andujar in 2018. Moreover, the questions surrounding Andujar's abilities are arguably larger than they were for Judge and Severino, considering the substantial variance of Andujar's rankings between major prospect lists.
As Tyler wrote in his Yankees prospect roundup on Monday, FanGraphs was extraordinarily bullish on Andujar, ranking him #14 in their Top 100 list. However, Andujar fared considerably worse on other lists, ranking #59 on Baseball America, #79 on ZiPS, and missing the top 100 entirely on Baseball Prospectus' list. Granted, prospect lists aren't everything, and just making a single top-100 list (let alone three) should be considered a testimony of Andujar's potential in and of itself. But for a prospect who's being essentially handed the starting third base job, this variance in rankings doesn't exactly bode well. Why are these rankings so divided on Miguel Andujar, and is the Yankees' confidence in him justified or not?
Let's start by looking at the high guys on Andujar. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel, compilers of FanGraphs' Top 100 list, justified their aggressive ranking of Andujar by noting that he “has cut down on his swing-and-miss while also lifting the ball more and hitting it with more authority.” Because detailed plate discipline and contact quality data isn't available for the minors, we can't see how those numbers support or refute Longenhagen and McDaniel's claims.
However, by looking at some more general statistics, we can indeed see that Andujar went from striking out 17.3% of the time in High-A in 2015 to just 13.2% of the time in Triple-A in 2017. His ISO has also improved greatly in that time span, improving from .120 in 2015 to .185 in 2017 (AAA). By these admittedly simple measures, Longenhagen and McDaniel's comments appear to be true.
While Andujar's purported strengths—bat-to-ball ability, launch angles and contact quality—are all important aspects of hitting, they aren't everything. By other measures, one could paint a pretty unappealing picture of Andujar's offensive profile. For instance, his low walk rate, which has never exceeded 7.2% at any level ever (excluding his 5-game MLB stint last season), suggests that Andujar is overly aggressive at the plate and prone to hitting bad pitches.
Moreover, his sky-high infield fly ball rate, which has consistently exceeded 20% in the minors, save for 2013, suggests that his swing tends to get under the ball too many times, hampering his ability to properly square up pitches. Of course, the strengths of Andujar that Longenhagen/McDaniel raise could outweigh the weaknesses that I raised above, but there's no guarantee that the opposite won't happen. Just by looking at the numbers, there is real risk in Andujar's offensive profile.
Baseball Prospectus' non-ranking of Andujar seems to be a reflection of this fact. When asked by a commenter about the thought process behind leaving Andujar off the list, lead prospect writer Jeffery Paternostro answered that Andujar was a “just missed guy” and that he had issues with Andujar's swing and throwing at third base. Although Paternostro acknowledges Andujar's talent, saying that he “keeps making it work though, and I fully admit I may be too stubborn here,” ultimately he found Andujar's weaknesses a tad too significant for him to be ranked within the top 100.
Judging from the above, the main disagreement between Longenhagen/McDaniel and Paternostro regarding Miguel Andujar seems to be his offensive abilities. There is much more consensus among the two parties, as well as the industry as a whole, about Andujar's defense at third, which is generally regarded as presently below-average with room for growth.
It boils down to this: in the short term, as an iffy fielder at a premium defensive position, Andujar has to hit at or above average (100~110 wRC+) to justify giving him a starting role. Longenhagen/McDaniel are optimistic about that happening, while Paternostro isn't. That is the difference between their rankings.
The Yankees appear to be content with Miguel Andujar as their starting 3B in 2018, in which they look to fight a close division race with the Red Sox. It's encouraging that they have so much confidence in the youngster. However, having looked at how various prospect rankings and writers view his offensive abilities, it also seems like they're taking a substantial gamble on Andujar based on a very optimistic forecast. I can't fault the Yankees for hoping for the best. But I'm worried that they aren't preparing for the worst.