PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Miguel Andujar wore a white shirt bearing the Nike logo and slogan “Just Do It” in red print while he stood in front of a locker during Sunday’s Yankees-Rays game at Charlotte Sports Park.
That slogan fits what Andujar is facing this spring training — learning two new positions — after playing in just a dozen games last season following right shoulder surgery.
Thanks to a stellar 2019 at the plate, which was a surprise, and at third base, which wasn’t, Gio Urshela opened camp in the favorable position of having the starting third-base job his to lose.
With Andujar healed and memories of his terrific 2018 rookie season when he hit .297 with 27 homers, 92 RBIs, posted a .855 OPS and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race still fresh, the Yankees are attempting to find other positions for him to play.
Hence, he has been working at third, in the outfield and first base in the early days of camp to become more versatile, which would allow the Yankees to get his lethal bat in the lineup more often.
Andujar started at third Sunday and will play third Tuesday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. There is a good chance he will play the outfield later this week in Tampa.
“After that his next start could very well be at first base,” Boone said before Andujar hit a solo homer in a 9-7 loss to the Rays in his first game action since May 12.
So much of Andujar’s defensive shortcomings centered on his throwing in 2018, though his 15 errors were actually one less than Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado made that year. Arenado has won the NL Gold Glove at third in each of his eight big-league seasons. More of an issue was the balls Andujar didn’t get to because of his pre-pitch setup. The Yankees worked hard on that last spring training but never got to see whether it worked because Andujar’s season was kaput in May.
Andujar played five innings at third without an issue Sunday and reminded everyone his bat is easily his best tool as he hit an opposite-field homer to right in his third at-bat.
“I didn’t know [it was out]. I hit it and started running hard,” Andujar said of the home run, which was initially ruled a double.
Even if Andujar, who will turn 25 early next month, shows enough defensive ability in the outfield and first base, playing time at those positions will be limited. Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge will be backed up by Mike Tauchman in the outfield, where likely reserve infielder Tyler Wade can also play. Luke Voit will be the starting first baseman with Mike Ford and/or DJ LeMahieu in reserve. There will be DH at-bats for Andujar if Stanton regularly plays left.
“Everything we have been working on has been working out,” Andujar said of his outfield experience. “For me it is a new position. I haven’t played outfield since I was a little kid. We have great coaches here. What they have been helping me with has made a difference.”
Of course, there is a chance Andujar’s bat carries him past Urshela, a career .225 hitter before batting .314 with 21 homers, 74 RBIs and a .889 OPS last season. All of those numbers were career highs for the 28-year-old.
“It’s nice to see him out there. Obviously, it’s been a long road for him and he has worked really hard to get to this point,” Boone said of Andujar, who started a 5-4-3 double play in the third inning.
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