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Miguel Andujar already working on his defense

Third baseman trying to make his performance in the field as good as his production at the plate.

New York Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar (41)

New York Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar (41) in the first inning in the Bronx in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox on Monday Oct 8, 2018, at Yankee Stadium in Bronx Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Miguel Andujar doesn’t seem to be much for the “off” part of the offseason.

Andujar, the American League Rookie of the Year runner-up,  excelled at the plate but was uneven in the field this past season. Before the  calendar turned to December, he already had spent time at the Yankees' minor-league complex in Tampa working on the weak part of his game.

“He came down for a few days a couple of weeks ago,” infield coach Carlos Mendoza, who lives in the Tampa area, said by phone Friday. “We always talk about his work ethic, and the fact that it’s the offseason and he’s already working at his craft, not just physically but baseball-wise . . .  that says a lot about Miguel Andujar.”

Andujar, whose name has come up frequently  in the rumor mill as potential trade bait this offseason, hit .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs in 149 games after starting the season in the minors. He led all MLB rookies in hits (170), doubles (47), RBIs, extra-base hits (76) and multi-hit games (53). He broke the Yankees’ single-season rookie record for doubles, eclipsing Joe DiMaggio's 44 in 1936. 

Andujar, who will turn 24 on March 2, arguably was the Yankees’ most consistent offensive performer throughout the season, but fielding was an issue. He committed 15 errors, and the uncertainty that accompanied balls hit his way in the latter part of the season prompted Aaron Boone to  sit Andujar for Game 4 of the Division Series against the Red Sox with the Yankees  facing elimination.

Mendoza has a close relationship with Andjuar, who signed with the Yankees in July 2011. Before being elevated to the big-league staff last year, Mendoza served in a variety of roles with the Yankees and was their infield coordinator from 2013-17. He worked with Andujar much of that time.

Knowing the player as he does, Mendoza said it wasn’t at all surprising that Andujar jumped at the chance to fly to Tampa recently, even after such a successful 2018. His focus wasn’t on what he did well, it was on what needs work.

“It’s not that he wants to be good, he wants to be great. That’s the reason he’s doing what he’s doing,” Mendoza said. “He wants to continue to get better. He’s always looking for the details. ‘How can I improve here? How can I improve there?’ That’s what makes him special.”

Mendoza said much of what he’s been working on with Andujar – who is back home in the Dominican Republic but continues to send video of his on-field work to Mendoza so the pair can discuss it – is his positioning.

“What we’re focusing on right now is his pre-pitch setup,” Mendoza said. “We’re trying to put him in the best position so he can react at contact. Making sure that he finds a spot where he’s comfortable on his setup so he can have a better first step, a better read on the ball to create better angles. It starts with his setup and his ready position.” 

As trade chips go, general manager Brian Cashman wouldn’t call Andujar “untouchable,'' but not much should be read into that. He rarely speaks in such absolutes.

“I’d rather say some are more touchable than others, but Andujar is part of a young nucleus of players that we’re excited about,” Cashman said during the just-finished winter meetings. “Obviously, we don’t get to 100 wins without [him].”

As for Andujar’s defensive struggles, Cashman said the Yankees very much see him as a third baseman and added that there’s nothing precluding him from getting better, which is the expectation.

“He’s not physically challenged in a way that prevents him from improving on his defense,” Cashman said, citing Andujar’s 6-foot, 211-pound build. “[We] feel those [the errors] are solvable issues, and with time and growth and maturity, you’ll see an improved player at that position. The bat we don’t even have to speak about because it’s already pretty exciting what you’ve seen.”

Notes & quotes: Andujar isn’t the only Yankee who has done early work at the minor-league complex in recent weeks. Greg Bird and Luke Voit, who figure to compete for the job at first base, have been there, as has Gleyber Torres, who finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting behind the Angels' Shohei Ohtani and Andujar.

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