All signs indicate that sophomore third baseman Miguel Andujar is plenty motivated to take the next step. The Yankees just want to make certain that his step is taken properly — literally.
While Andujar’s bat earned him 2018 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up honors — he hit .297 with 27 home runs, 47 doubles, and 92 RBI in 149 games — the soon-to-be 24-year-old’s offseason included time spent with infielder instructor Carlos Mendoza in both Tampa and his native Dominican Republic.
The goal? To fix and adjust Andujar’s pre-pitch setup at the corner bag.
In 2018, Andujar committed 15 errors, which was tied for fourth-most among all major league third basemen. His .948 fielding percentage was also tied for third-worst among 20 big leaguers who played at least 700 innings at third.
Poor footwork, positioning, balance, and arm angle were the causes of Andujar’s frequent defensive issues, and the Yankees hope the tweaking to his pre-pitch setup will make a noticeable difference once Opening Day arrives.
“I think he has worked really hard at making a handful of subtle adjustments over there and is in a really good place as far as his pre-pitch that is putting him in a good, athletic position,”Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “I want to see him using his athleticism over there… Infield is so much about feet and using your legs to create hops and create athleticism. We talk about hands all the time, but really, the great fielders have great feet and are able to stay athletic. I feel like he’s in a much better place even now from where he was a year ago.”
Since Andujar’s defense was a liability last season, there had been speculation as to which position he would play in 2019. First base and left field were brought up from time to time.
But the Yankees don’t share the same level of enthusiasm. Unless the club unexpectedly signs free agent star Manny Machado in the coming days or weeks, Andujar will remain their starting third baseman.
And don’t count on him moving around, either.
“I don’t expect him to. He’ll play entirely at third,” Boone said last Wednesday during his introductory spring training press conference. “That said, there may be a day or two that we pick to have him on a back field just to get some first base in, which we may do with [backup catcher Austin] Romine or [starting catcher] Gary [Sanchez] just to keep some versatile options when you get into a little bit of a bind. But [Andujar’s] game work will be, I’ll say now, pretty much at third base.”
In Game 4 of last season’s ALDS against the Red Sox, the Yankees chose not to start Andujar at third base. Instead, Neil Walker received the start — for defensive purposes — and Andujar watched the entire game from the bench.
Andujar recently told ESPN Radio’s The Michael Kay Show that Boone’s decision in Game 4 didn’t bother him. He wanted to stay positive, in case he was eventually called upon.
Andujar has the confidence. He works on mental preparation. So if he faces further issues on defense this spring, it won’t be due to some lack of effort, or care.
“I’ve been working on my first step and my coordination and movements laterally, so I feel real good about where I am defensively heading into spring training,” Andujar said.
The Yankees are scheduled to play their first Grapefruit League exhibition game on Saturday, February 23 against the defending World Series champion Red Sox in Fort Myers, Florida.