The Yankees' offense has firepower up and down the lineup, and third base prospect Miguel Andujar is off to a hot start, which has created an early argument for making the Opening Day roster.
Andujar is 4-for-10 this spring with two home runs, including a walk-off bomb in Monday's win. Andujar, who turns 23 on Friday, hit a combined .315 with a .352 on-base percentage, and a .498 slugging percentage with 36 doubles, 16 home runs and 82 RBIs with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2017. Andujar accrued just 250 plate appearances with Scranton, generating an impressive .866 OPS.
The notion that the right-handed hitting Andujar has a fine stroke is clear. Scouts around the league and those in the Yankees organization have touted his skills with the bat for some time. For the limited period he's been on the elevated prospect radar, Andujar has yet to disappoint in his offensive progression.
The well-known knock on Andujar is on the defensive end of his game. As such, the Yankees went out and traded for Brandon Drury seemingly in an effort to give Andujar a bit more time to hone his defensive skills at Scranton.
Andujar has been working with Yankees infield coach Carlos Mendoza this spring, understanding that he has to prove he can be an adequate enough of a defender for the club to place him at the hot corner on an everyday basis.
"From a year ago, what I've been wanting to do is be more focused and repeat the good things that you do on the field," Andujar said Tuesday according to MLB.com. "Be more consistent on that side of the game. I work hard with the coaches, go through the routines and the drills to help me be more consistent and keep repeating the good stuff."
Andujar has the capacity to be a major leaguer at some point in the 2018 season, but will it happen as the team breaks camp? A few things need to happen in order for Andujar to be introduced as the starting third baseman March 29 when the Yankees face the Blue Jays in Toronto to begin the regular season.
First, the defensive evidence will need to be visible during game situations over a lengthy period of time. At this stage of the spring, Andujar has played 18 innings in the infield, and has received all of five balls hit his way (he's handled them all cleanly). Not until Andujar is adeptly handling pellets and slow rollers hit his way, and delivering consistent throws across the diamond over a larger sample size, will the Yankees be completely comfortable with him at third base on a daily basis.
Second, I fully believe that if Drury has a solid spring - he is on his way thus far, grabbing two hits in three at-bats, with a triple - he will be at third base to start the season. The Yankees did not go out of their way to trade for Drury to become a bench player to start the season. The club was straightforward in discussing Drury's role as the third baseman immediately upon the trade consummating. I don't get the feeling Drury has to prove himself, but rather simply demonstrate he is healthy and the player he's been in Arizona, while acclimating to a new environment in order to lock down the role. Drury's health taking a bad turn might need to be a necessity to open a path for Andujar.
Finally, we have to pause for a moment and look at the pitching Andujar has hit his homers off thus far. Ranger Suarez, who allowed Andujar's walk-off blast has 37 2/3 innings (3.82 ERA) of High-A ball under his belt, and Tuesday's homer came off of Justin Shafer, who has four innings of experience at the Triple-A level, and a 4.34 ERA in 304 2/3 minor league innings. Andujar should be demolishing pitches off these type of hurlers, so it will be important to witness how he fares against prominent major league pitchers later in the spring.
I will suggest that if Andujar continues to stroke the ball with authority, and it progresses against major league pitching, the Yankees might need to adjust their thinking by providing Drury some time at second base later in the spring, assuming they congruently decide they do not want to start Gleyber Torres, Ronald Torreyes or Tyler Wade there. In my view, having alternatives is important and testing variations in spring training is exactly the Grapefruit League's purpose.
There is a chance that Andujar succeeds in convincing the Yankees he is ready for prime time at the outset of the season, but it will take more than a handful of reps at the position and loud hits against inferior pitching. Andujar's cumulative production on both sides of the ball over the next four weeks - not the first week alone - will dictate if he is completely ready for the big leagues or if a bit more time at Scranton is required.