Miguel Enrique Andújar was born in San Cristóbal, in the Dominican Republic, on March 2nd, 1995. That same day, 968 miles north and northwest of the newborn child, the space shuttle Endeavour launched itself into low-earth orbit, bearing five men and two women. It returned to eastern Florida 16 days later, flew 17 more missions over the next 16 years, and was finally decommissioned on the first day of June, 2011. Andújar, now 23 years old and a finalist for this year’s Rookie of the Year Award, remains in active service.
In 2018, Andújar took 606 plate appearances for the Yankees. In 239 of those appearances, he reached base by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch. 15 of those hits came in a seven-game stretch in April during which Andújar recorded a 1.706 OPS and joined Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees to record seven straight games with an extra-base hit before turning 25. Of his hits, 47 were doubles, which tied an American League rookie record set by Fred Lynn in 1975 and vaulted Andújar past DiMaggio, this time, into the Yankee record books. Andújar also hit 27 home runs in 2018, and his 128 wRC+ was third-best among AL hitters under 25, behind Francisco Lindor and Alex Bregman.
I don’t know if Andújar tipped his servers well in 2018, or brushed his teeth every night without fail, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He did a lot of things right in 2018. And he was part of a powerful Yankees infield that included Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres.
It’s due to the presence of Gregorius and (especially) fellow rookie Torres, however, that Andújar has perhaps received fewer accolades than one might expect for a Yankees rookie who just produced a three-win season. Andújar won’t win the Rookie of the Year Award. Shohei Ohtani will, probably — and if he doesn’t, it’ll be Torres. Andújar is regarded as merely the second-best young infielder on a very good Yankees team, which hides to some extent the fact that he’s a pretty good player in his own right. It doesn’t help that the obvious holes in his game — a lack of plate discipline, a worrying tendency towards pop-ups, questionable performance at third base — have created the impression around the game that any success he recorded in 2018 is, well, a bit of a fluke. There are some reports that this is a view shared by the Yankees front office.
When Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked Andújar 14th on our 2018 Top 100 Prospects list, they said this:
Andújar has tantalized scouts since early in his pro career with a strong, athletic frame and flashy tools that are above average to plus across the board. He largely was seen as potential, even passed over by all 30 teams in the Rule 5 Draft after the 2015 season, then he broke out in a huge way in 2017, reaching a critical mass of adjustments and maturity that showed up in the counting stats.
Andújar has cut down on his swing-and-miss while also lifting the ball more and hitting it with more authority, an obviously rare and desirable combination when you’re already working with a toolsy prospect who was always young for his level. There’s still some lingering maturity questions and mental lapses on defense, but that didn’t stop the Pirates and other clubs from demanding Andújar in recent trade talks with the Yankees, who refused to discuss him.
Sometimes prospects do this. You can’t see any one particular reason why they should succeed, given their very obvious shortcomings, except that it is clear that they have. People still wonder when Kyle Hendricks will finally be bad, like he’s always supposed to have been. People couldn’t figure out Paul Goldschmidt for the longest time. The last time Andújar had a wRC+ below 100 at any level was in 2016, when he was promoted to Double-A at the age of 21. His wRC+ for those 319 plate appearances in Trenton was 89. The next year, last year, his wRC+ at the same level was 126, which got him moved up to Triple-A. He posted a 139 mark in 250 plate appearances there, then tacked up eight plate appearances in the Bronx to round out the season. He has not sniffed the minors since.
We ranked Andújar 14th last year. BP didn’t include him in their Top 100. As far as I can tell, both organizations assessed Andújar about the same: big tools, good numbers, bad defense, and questionable plate discipline. The gap between 14 and somewhere more than 100, then, lies almost entirely in what you make of a reality that continues to defy expectations.
I looked over almost all of Andújar’s numbers from 2018 in the course of writing this post. (Yes, there is a complete list, somewhere in the FanGraphs archives, of “all the numbers.”) I couldn’t find anything that suggested that he improved over the course of the year, or changed fundamentally from what he was coming into it. His swing rate stayed about the same throughout the year. His walk rate careened between acceptable and abysmal, roughly on a plane with his wOBA. He got worse, and better, and stood out and hit 47 doubles, all while remaining pretty much the same player he was when he was fairly ranked somewhere between 14th and more than 100 among all big-league prospects coming into the season. He was what he is is a tautology; it is also, I think, a way to better understand this particular Yankee. What you think Andújar is comes down to whether you care more about what he’s done than about what he could do.
Nobody complained when the space shuttle Endeavour didn’t make it to the moon in early March, 1995. It wasn’t meant to — it was meant to make some observations about UV radiation from space and test the capacity of a particular type of payload system to withstand motion disturbances. It did those things, and returned safely to Earth. Miguel Andújar isn’t the best young hitter on the Yankees, and he won’t be the American League Rookie of the Year. He was, last year, yet another good young Yankee. If the past is any predictor, he’ll be the same thing again next year, his third in active service. The 2018 season was a good one.
Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he’s a public policy researcher in housing & homelessness. By night he tweets.