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Yankees position analysis: Gio Urshela grabbed third-base job and never let go

Gio Urshela #29 of the Yankees throws for

Gio Urshela #29 of the Yankees throws for an out during the ninth inning in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2019, at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Jim McIsaac

During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Yankees position by position. We already covered first base, second base and shortstop. Now, third base.

The starter: Few Yankees trades in recent years have flown more under the radar than the one that landed Gio Urshela. On Aug. 4, 2018, they acquired the third baseman from the Blue Jays for cash considerations, and it’s safe to say they didn’t know what they were getting.

Urshela had been a slick fielder with the Indians and Blue Jays but had been miserable at the plate, accumulating a .225 average with a .589 OPS, eight homers and 39 RBIs in 167 big-league games from 2015-18.

But when the Yankees' tidal wave of injuries claimed 2018 third baseman Miguel Andujar early in the 2019 season, Urshela became a starter — and wound up hitting .314 with an .889 OPS, 21 homers and 74 RBIs in 132 games.

Though Urshela slumped down the stretch — he hit .209 with a .617 OPS in the last 25 games — general manager Brian Cashman declared the position his to lose entering spring training, and he did nothing before the sport was shut down March 13 to suggest he was going to lose it.

The other options: Andujar, 25, entered spring training entrenched as the backup third baseman, and he also spent time learning two new positions, leftfield and first base. The Yankees' desire to have his potent bat in the lineup makes him a threat to Urshela, 28, if the latter suffers a prolonged slump at the plate.

Yes, Andujar had his share of defensive issues in 2018 — concerns about his defense cost him the start in Game 4 of that year’s ALDS loss to the Red Sox — but the bottom line is the bat. Andujar hit .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs in 149 games in 2018, finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind the Angels' Shohei Ohtani.

DJ LeMahieu, though primarily a second baseman before joining the Yankees last year, looked comfortable in his 50 games at third in 2019. Tyler Wade appeared in five games at the position — one of six he can play — and was fine. Still, with LeMahieu moving back to his natural position of second, if something were to happen to Urshela, it’s all but a lock that Andujar would slot back in.

The future: If neither  Urshela nor Andujar works out at third base, the Yankees likely would have to go outside the organization because a.) according to multiple opposing team evaluators who cover the Yankees’ system, third base is not a position of depth or strength,  and b.) the few third basemen inside the organization who have drawn praise are not close to being considered major league-ready.

Among them are Mandy Alvarez, the Yankees’ 17th-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky in the 2016 draft, who finished second in the organization in RBIs (76) while playing for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Much further from the majors are Marcos Cabrera, 18, who debuted in 2019 in the Dominican Summer League, and Andres Chaparro, 20, who played last season with short-season Class A Staten Island.

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