Miguel Andújar isn’t Wally Pipp 2.0, but he has apparently lost his hold on the hot corner. And while Gio Urshela isn’t Lou Gehrig 2.0, Urshela deserves the inside track on the job after a terrific 2019. That leaves Andújar in a tough position come spring training. Not only will he have to fight for a roster spot, but he also needs show that his surgically repaired shoulder is back to full strength.
Assuming Andújar’s shoulder is fine and his bat reminiscent of his rookie year, the Yankees will find a lineup spot for him. However, since it’s hard to imagine Urshela losing the starting job barring injury, Aaron Boone has informed Miggy that he’ll work at first base and left field in camp. The only question is: well can he handle either of those spots?
This isn’t the first time Andújar’s name has come up for a position change. There were concerns about his ability to play third base during his prospect days. In 2018, we saw those worries come to fruition. By all accounts, Miggy was quite poor defensively. Eye test or defensive metrics, it was no matter. Hence the talk of moving him off third base.
Now that talks of a position change are a reality, let’s discuss the Andújar’s outlook at first base and left field.
First base is often the first spot people bring up for any player needing to move off a position for defensive reasons. That doesn’t mean it’s easier, however.
The graphic above depicts how Andújar handles batted balls in various directions. He mostly struggles to the backhand but is actually OK to the glove side. I suppose we can assume that those same tendencies will translate over to first base — poor range won’t dissipate simply because of a position change.
That said, perhaps DJ LeMahieu’s defensive prowess will be a saving grace for Andújar’s range. Keep in mind that there’s no second line of defense for a third baseman to the right. Instead, the grounders Miggy couldn’t get to toward the third base line resulted extra base hits. Going forward at first, they’ll either be singles or gobbled up by LeMahieu. LeMahieu isn’t the only benefit for Andújar, either. The hot corner gets a lot more action than first base, so fewer opportunities at first would hide Miggy to an extent.
One thing we can’t glean from Statcast are how Miggy will handle new responsibilities at first base. Brian Cashman has lauded his makeup, so it stands to reason that Andújar is willing and able to learn his new role. Still, there’s a lot to learn and evaluate in the time period spring training permits. A few new things come to mind:
- Handling errant throws: from scooping to footwork around the bag
- Different cutoff man responsibilities
- Holding runners
- Decision-making: attempt to field or cover base on grounders in 1B/2B hole
That’s a lot to get up to speed with, but it’s not an outlandish ask. That Andújar already has a feel for the infield, even if he’s not good at third base, will help him get started.
If the 24 year-old takes to first base well, he’ll still need to fend off Luke Voit and Mike Ford for playing time. They aren’t the best defenders themselves, so it may be more about who’s hot at the plate than any of their work in the field. Plus, there’s also the designated hitter spot that could allow Miggy and Voit/Ford to be in the lineup at the same time.
Here’s where we’re completely in the dark. I mean, we know Andújar is a good athlete and has a strong arm. Whether or not that translates to left field is a mystery. Seeing Miggy play out there will be one of the big things to watch come spring training.
On the bright side, being good runner (77th percentile sprint speed per Statcast) and having a strong arm are a good starter kit for a move to left field. But things like instincts, first step, and decision-making can’t be evaluated until we see Andújar do it.
To be frank, I’m not so sure we see Andújar in the outfield during the regular season anytime soon. Spring Training, sure. But between Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, and Mike Tauchman, the Yankees are pretty much set in the outfield. Aaron Hicks will be back eventually, too. Andújar in the outfield seems like a scenario that requires a lot of work in spring training and bunch of minor league reps in Triple-A before any major league exposure.
Struggling at one position isn’t necessarily a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the field. It’s not the best starting point, but that doesn’t mean trying something new isn’t worth the shot. Maybe, for whatever reason, Andújar will adapt to first base with ease. Perhaps his athleticism and arm strength will make him passable out in left field. And if neither work, there’s always DH. As long as his shoulder is strong and his offense returns to 2018-levels, the Yankees are going to find a place for him.