A few months back, Miguel Andujar figured to be the Yankees’ secret weapon, fresh off his year-long rehab for shoulder surgery.
Now he’s an Alternate Site All-Star.
Such is the plight of Andujar, who became a roster casualty Thursday in the Yankees’ desire to replenish the pitching staff for the immediate future. Truth is, Andujar just got squeezed out, as his primary positions - third base and fourth outfielder - have been superbly handled so far by Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman.
It’s a frustrating predicament for a highly-talented 25-year-old only two years removed from a runner-up Rookie of the Year finish to the Angels’ (former) two-way star, Shohei Ohtani. Andujar spent a big chunk of his rehab time learning the outfield and showed up in Tampa over the winter with the expectation he would be the Yankees’ super-sub, capable of providing another righty hammer off the bench.
Given the Yankees’ inability to keep players healthy the previous two years, Andujar was a nice insurance policy to have, and perhaps a hedge against Urshela taking a step back. But just the opposite happened, with Urshela’s brilliant defense actually overshadowed lately by his clutch bat.
So instead of Andujar getting his long-awaited shot, he’s just another talented young Yankee - along with Clint Frazier and Thairo Estrada - banished to the alternate-site limbo in Scranton Wilkes-Barre. It’s not a stretch to say that any of those three could be starring for a number of major-league franchises. The Yankees are just too deep, with plenty of flexible pieces, leaving no room for Andujar, who hit 47 doubles and 27 homers while playing 149 games his rookie season in 2018.
“He’s like many of our guys - they’re a play away all the time from a regular opportunity,” manager Aaron Boone said before Thursday night’s series finale against the Phillies. “I think it’s just a difficult role for him to be in.
“I think he’s handled it great. His work has not changed, his attitude has not changed. But being in that role, I do feel like when he does get his opportunities, you want that result so bad that you probably press and get after it almost a little too much.”
That would help explain Andujar’s early struggles at the plate (1-for-14, 3 Ks) on a roster with no allowances for growing pains. He played in only five games - starting both ends of Wednesday’s doubleheader split with the Phillies - and it was tough to envision Andujar seeing the field much going forward.
As much as Boone likes to shuffle the lineup - Thursday’s was the 11th different configuration in 12 games - the Yankees have enough healthy bodies to do that regularly during this truncated season. And Andujar was victimized by a sort of chicken-egg dilemma. He needed to hit better to earn more at-bats, but needed more at-bats in order to hit better. Sitting on the bench wasn’t doing him any good, and now he’ll have to stay ready through the simulations in Scranton. Andujar just doesn’t have the experience to succeed as a sub quite yet.
“There’s no question that’s a challenging role, and especially for a younger player that’s played regularly his entire life coming off a season where you missed,” Boone said. “That doesn’t mean he can’t. That doesn’t mean you don’t have some success in that role and you kind of find yourself a little bit.
“We’ve seen that. We saw it last year different guys - Tauchman was an everyday guy coming up through the system. Guys for whatever reason at different times click in that kind of a role. And all of a sudden you learn how to parlay that - the success and some of the failures - into how to kind of survive and thrive in that role. So I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question. But it is a challenge.”
It’s also a process the Yankees don’t have the patience for at the moment, not after a 9-2 start that is quickly building some separation in the AL East. And the last thing they need is another power bat from the right side. Entering Thursday, the Yankees had homered in each of their first 11 games for the first time in franchise history and were leading the majors with 23 home runs overall. Also, their .831 OPS was the best in baseball, far ahead of the second-place Astros (.788), so Boone has plenty of weapons at his disposal, even without Andujar.
Still, for all of Andujar’s potential - and everything he’s worked through to get back to the Yankees - Boone acknowledged it was a difficult thing to do.
“Unfortunately, I’ve had to have a few of those conversations with really good players that are good big-league players,” Boone said. “It’s a little bit, obviously, the result of having a deep and talented roster. But that doesn’t make it any easier.”