If you tell a Yankees fan their team may soon have a third baseman with a potent bat and strong arm, they probably will begin daydreaming about signing Manny Machado in the 2018-19 free-agent class.
By then, though, the Yankees have a top 100 prospect who will have had the opportunity to supplant himself at the hot corner.
It is a stretch to label 22-year-old Miguel Andújar, the Yanks’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com, as “under the radar.” But he is not talked about as much as the Gleyber Torresses and Clint Fraziers of New York’s system.
Andújar climbed from Double-A to the big leagues in 2017 and dominated at each stop. Overall, he spanked 16 homers, 38 doubles and drove in 86 runs. His batting average did not dip below .315 at any level.
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While the bat is Andújar’s calling card, MLB.com grades his arm a powerful 70 on the 20-80 scale. The flaw keeping him in the Minors has been sloppy defense, including clunky footwork and a sidearm slot that led to numerous throwing errors.
Many who cover the Yanks’ Minor League affiliates noted a gradual improvement in this area of Andújar’s game, although it still was not enough to earn manager Joe Girardi’s trust after a September call-up with the club in playoff contention.
For the fiscally-conscious Yankees front office, Andújar putting it all together would pay off in the form of vast savings.
One calendar year from now, all eyes will be on Orioles and Nationals superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, respectively, when they enter free agency. Ken Rosenthal speculated a year ago that Machado’s price tag “may get into the $400 million range.”
That is why 2018 is the year for the budding Andújar to prove himself. Todd Frazier is departing as a free agent, leaving Chase Headley as the incumbent third baseman. Headley, however, is not inflexible as he can DH and back up first base in his walk year with the Yankees.
Though Andújar will likely begin the season in Triple-A, the Yanks would be wise to see what they have in their young slugger.
Of course, it is entirely possible for Andújar and Machado to coexist on a future Yankees team.
The notion that a prospect could make a cornerstone player like Machado a luxury seems absurd. But in the same breath, we were saying that about Harper before Aaron Judge became Aaron Judge.