LAKELAND, Fla. — There is no consensus among opposing team scouts and talent evaluators when it comes to Miguel Andujar eventually turning himself into a solid defensive third baseman.
“I don’t see it,” one NL scout said. “He still comes down here [sidearm] too often on some of his throws and the range [is lacking].”
“That said, we’ll take him. Right now.”
There is consensus on that.
Andjuar, who turns 24 on Saturday, is coming off a season in which he hit .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs in 149 games after starting the season in the minors. The righthanded hitter led all rookies in hits (170), doubles (47), RBIs, extra-base hits (76) and multi-hit games (53).
But Andujar’s glove was, and still is, a question — he committed 15 errors — which contributed to an offseason of rumors about the Yankees moving him to first (not a consideration), packaging him in a trade (never close to happening), and making a strong push to sign Manny Machado (never seriously pursued).
And the biggest reason none of the above happened is an organizational consensus that Andujar will get significantly better in the field.
“He’s got a tremendous work ethic,” Yankees’ vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring said on Wednesday. “He’s been working hard and his attitude’s been great. Miggy’s got the natural tools — he’s got arm strength, he’s got foot quickness, as you see he’s got foot speed when he runs. There’s a lot of areas that he has the natural tools and capabilities to [help him] improve.”
Andujar’s work ethic, never questioned in the minors, showed last spring training when he often was seen, along with Gleyber Torres, showing up well before report time for extra work with infield coach Carlos Mendoza.
This offseason Andujar went to Tampa in November to see Mendoza at the club’s minor- league complex and returned in January.
Andujar went 0-for-2 in the Yankees' 10-4 rain-shortened loss to the Tigers at Publix Field on Wednesday, but he did contribute with his glove. He started a 5-4-3 double play to end the first inning and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch on Christin Stewart's pop-up in foul territory for the first out of the second. Andujar caught a smoked liner off the bat of Nicholas Castellanos for the second out.
“The hope is the way we’re practicing, we want the same in games,” Andujar said through his translator. “We want to bring that over to the game and expect the same kind of results we see during practice.”
No sooner had Machado signed his $300-million deal with the Padres, that many jumped narratives, fitting Nolan Arenado for pinstripes. But that runaway speculation train got stopped fairly quickly when Arenado agreed to a $260 million extension with the Rockies.
“It’s good for him, man,” Andujar said, in English, with a laugh. “I want to be like that one day. It’s good. Joking aside, that doesn’t impact the position where I find myself. I want to keep enjoying the game, playing hard, giving my best.”
One AL scout sounded exasperated when asked about the criticisms of Andujar’s defense. “Everyone wants a finished product right away,” the scout said. “It’s ridiculous. Look at the year he had.”
Naehring, who played third base in 345 of his 522 games over eight big-league seasons, is unwavering in his belief in Andujar.
“We’re all in the boat that we believe big-time in him and that [improvement] is all part of his future,” Naehring said. “To win championships you have to play good defense. I agree with that. But the young man was a rookie last year and if I’m not mistaken, we made it to the playoffs. Did we win a championship? No. But I don’t think that fell on Andujar’s shoulders. I have a lot of confidence that that young man at third base is going to continue to be more and more consistent.”