John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
To the astonishment of just about everybody in Major League Baseball, Shohei Ohtani proved he was worthy of all the "Japanese Babe Ruth" hype, so it's hard to argue that he is not a deserving winner of the American League Rookie of the Year Award, as announced on Monday night.
But that shouldn't diminish Miguel Andujar's accomplishments in 2018. If anything, the historic nature of Ohtani's hitter/pitcher feats should only enhance appreciation for Andujar's rookie season.
And Gleyber Torres' too, for that matter.
Without the two kids, the Yankees wouldn't have won 100 games, that's for sure.
So on this day, it's worth remembering that last spring training, the Yankees weren't entirely sold on Andujar and Torres as being major league-ready, which is why they traded for Brandon Drury in February and signed Neil Walker in March.
Who knew at the time Andujar, whose 47 doubles tied Fred Lynn's American League rookie record, would blossom so quickly that he would finish the season with more extra-base hits than Manny Machado?
Or that Torres, who wasn't called up until late April, would play his way into the All-Star Game and look like a potential MVP candidate until a hip injury seemed to affect his second-half production.
The Yankees being the Yankees, of course, their disappointing showing against the Red Sox in the ALDS overshadowed their 100-win season that proved this franchise is continuing to build a team that will be in the hunt for championships for the next several years.
So though they had to settle for second and third in the Rookie of the Year voting, the 23-year old Andujar and the 21-year old Torres justified a different type of hype, as the most recent graduates from a Yankee farm system that in recent years has been evaluated as being one of the best in baseball.
After a lot of dry years following the Derek Jeter home-grown core, the Yankees have now produced three straight years of at least second-place honors in the ROY voting, as Gary Sanchez finished second in 2016, and Aaron Judge won the award in 2017.
Of the two current rookies, Andujar was the bigger surprise. The Yankees thought he might need more time in Triple-A, especially to work on his defense at third base. But when Drury suffered from migraine headaches a week into the season, Andujar proved ready.
"Andujar came in and just took the job and ran with it," manager Aaron Boone said Monday on MLB Network. "From start to finish, was just a hitting machine."
Torres, meanwhile, had wowed the Yankees in spring training in 201, and probably would have been called up in August or September if he hadn't torn an elbow ligament on a slide at home plate in Triple-A, requiring Tommy John surgery.
A poor 2018 spring training, which may have been the result of the missed time and/or high expectations, pushed the Yankees to sign Walker, but like Andujar, Torres capitalized quickly when given the chance.
"Gleyber gets called up in April when we were kind of finding our way a little bit," Boone said, "and right away he was a difference-maker. The game comes very easy to Gleyber Torres, on both sides of the ball, and he's only going to grow and build on what he did this year."
By early July, in fact, Torres looked like practically a lock for Rookie of the Year, with 15 home runs in 63 games and a .905 OPS. But after a hip injury that sidelined him for three weeks, he hit only .249 with a .733 OPS in the second half, and scouts wondered if the hip affected him at the plate.
"He chased more breaking stuff," a scout said, "and that's going to happen to a young hitter. But he didn't look as comfortable after the injury. As long as the hip is OK, he's as good a young hitter as I've seen in a long time."
Torres is much better defensively as well, a natural shortstop who might move over to fill in there while Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery.
He made some careless errors during the season, but Torres' ability is such that he figures to be a mainstay in the lineup for years to come.
It's not quite that simple for Andujar, of course. His defense seemed to regress late in the season, perhaps as he lost confidence, and his throwing was especially a problem that raises questions about whether he'll stay at third long-term.
"He's got such a long throwing motion, he might always be inconsistent," was how a scout put it. "He might be better off at first base."
That's a possibility, depending whether Luke Voit proves to be the real thing and/or oft-injured Greg Bird ever delivers on what the Yankees believe is All-Star potential.
But it's also the reason Andujar could be used as a trade chip this winter if the Yankees have a chance to acquire a top starting pitcher, whether it's the Mariners' James Paxton, the Giants' Madison Bumgarner or the Indians' Corey Kluber.
As it is, the Pirates wanted Andujar as part of a package for Gerrit Cole last winter, and GM Brian Cashman wouldn't give him up.
Now, however, the Yankees may be more desperate for an ace, and they might also sign Machado as the long-term third baseman, which would make Andujar expendable.
It all makes for great intrigue, but before the Hot Stove season gets overheated, this is a day when Andujar -- and Torres as well -- deserves appreciation for a spectacular rookie season, even if he didn't win the hardware.