Piecing Together the Yankees’ Infield

Brandon Drury has more experience than the four other legitimate infield candidates put together.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Miguel Andujar clubbed two homers against the Phillies on Thursday, running his Grapefruit League total to four, which isn’t the kind of thing one normally notes when the calendar reads “March 1” or any March date before the 29th, which is Opening Day this year. However, Andujar is a legitimate prospect, a 23-year-old third baseman with an apparent shot to make the make the Yankees’ 25-man roster this spring, and part of a large pool from which the team will fill its two open infield positions (second base being the other).

Andujar’s early power display has people excited. Today (Friday) is his actual birthday, and sooner or later, manager Aaron Boone, general manager Brian Cashman, and the rest of the Yankees brass will have to figure out how all the pieces fit together, so the situation merits a closer look.

Back in December, the Yankees traded starting second baseman Starlin Castro to the Marlins in the Giancarlo Stanton deal and dealt third baseman Chase Headley to the Padres in a salary dump. They also let July acquisition Todd Frazier, who relegated Headley to a part-time corner-infield role, depart via free agency. Though they entertained the possibility of bringing back Frazier, their reluctance to give him a multi-year contract led the New Jersey native to sign a two-year, $17 million deal with the Mets instead.

Those departures leave Andujar, mid-2016 acquisition Gleyber Torres, holdovers Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade, the recently acquired Brandon Drury — who has more major-league experience than the other four put together — and non-roster invitees Danny Espinosa and Jace Peterson battling to join first baseman Greg Bird and shortstop Didi Gregorius as the team’s regular infielders. All but the two NRIs have minor-league options remaining. Let’s meet the contestants.

Miguel Andujar, 23, R/R (Profile)

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Andujar broke out in 2017, translating his raw power to game power, improving his pitch selection, and hitting a combined .315/.352/.498 with 36 doubles and 16 homers in 125 games split between Double- and Triple-A (58 games at the latter, his first taste of the level). He briefly and memorably saw major-league action, going 3-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs in his major-league debut on June 28, then getting sent back down for two-and-a-half months due to a roster crunch! He’s got a collection of above-average to plus tools, headlined by his arm (70 Present Value and 70 Future Value on the 20-80 scouting scale) and raw power (60/60), with his hit tool, game power, and fielding all grading out at 45/55.

Our prospect team of Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel are particularly high on him relative to the rest of the industry, ranking him 14th on their top-100 list, where the other major lists place him in the 50s and 60s. Eric and Kiley see the entire package as a 60 Future Value, a player who will have seasons above 3.0 WAR at his peak, where Baseball America grades him as a 55 FV. Here’s a bit of what Eric and Kiley wrote:

“Andujar 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…”

On the defensive side, the Yankees and other scouts have expressed concerns about Adujar’s footwork at the hot corner. Couple that with the sense that Torres may fit better at third than second, as well, and it still appears more likely that Andjuar goes back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start the year, his Grapefruit League outburst notwithstanding.

Brandon Drury, 25, R/R (Profile)

A 13th-round pick by the Braves in 2010, Drury came to the Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton trade of January 2013. After getting a cup of coffee with Arizona as a 22-year-old in 2015, he’s seen regular duty in each of the past two seasons, recording 979 plate appearances and seeing significant time at four positions: second base (117 starts), left field (52 starts), right field (27 starts), and third base (26 starts). He was dreadful at the outfield corners, but solid at second base (-2 UZR, +4 DRS) and shaky in a small sample size at third (-4 DRS and -4 UZR in just 311 innings), though both he and the Yankees apparently believe that’s his stronger position.

The author of 95 wRC+ career mark, Drury is similarly productive against pitchers of either hand. His biggest flaws are a 5.9% walk rate and a penchant for ground balls, but he spent the winter working with hitting coaches Tim Lakerand, Robert Van Scoyoc, and Craig Wallenbrock, who helped J.D. Martinez and Chris Taylor unlock their power; the goal is to get his bat head into the zone earlier and to change the plane of his swing to generate more loft. As if on cue, he hit his first homer of the spring on Thursday.

Gleyber Torres, 21, R/R (Profile)

Stolen from the Cubs in the July 2016 Aroldis Chapman trade, Torres entered last season as a consensus top-five prospect. The 20-year-old Venezuelan climbed from Double-A to Triple-A before the end of May and was spending the bulk of his time at second base and third base in anticipation of a callup. In mid-June, though, after just 23 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he tore the UCL of his left (non-throwing) elbow and needed season-ending surgery. In 55 games split between the two levels, he hit .287/.383/.480 with seven homers and seven steals.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, and MLB Pipeline all rank Torres among the game’s top half-dozen prospects, but our team has him a bit lower, at number 12. They designate him as a 60 FV player where, say, BA and MLB Pipeline have him as a 65. His throwing and raw power are already above average, and his hit tool and game power project to get there eventually, but our team has more reservations about the projection of some of his tools, particularly the hit. While he has the range and arm to be solid at shortstop, he’s blocked by Sir Didi, who’s 28, coming off a career-best 3.9 WAR, and under club control through 2019. Thus, Torres has played both second and third this spring; he’s got the power profile for the latter position, but the team’s depth there means they’re giving him a long look at the keystone.

Ronald Torreyes, 25, R/R (Profile)

Torreyes is a fun little utilityman who’s already with his sixth major-league organization. In a waiver-wire odyssey two years ago, he went from the Dodgers to the Yankees to the Angels and back to the Yankees inside of three weeks. The pint-sized righty hit .292/.314/.375 (82 wRC+) in 336 PA last year while filling in for the injured Gregorius and Castro and spotting at third. He’s been within a couple runs of average at all three positions according to UZR and DRS, though he doesn’t yet have 500 big-league innings at any single position. He’s a thoroughly respectable bench piece thanks to his versatility; if he’s starting, it’s as a placeholder.

Tyler Wade, 23, L/R (Profile)

A fourth-round 2013 pick out of a California high school, Wade reached Triple A for the first time last year and enjoyed a breakout, hitting .310/.382/.460 in 85 games and expanding his defensive palette beyond the middle infield, making starts at third base and all three outfield spots. He went just 9-for-58 in the majors, rarely starting on back-to-back days and getting yo-yoed to the minors as well, but he did show off his versatility. Cashman sees him as a Zobrist-ian superutilityman in the making, but he’s got a ways to go to get to that level. Our prospect team views him as a 45 FV, a good utilityman but a below-average regular at a middle-infield spot.

Danny Espinosa, 30, B/R (Profile)
Jace Peterson, 27, L/R (Profile)

Two guys, one capsule, and almost no chance at a full-time job for either. The 31-year-old Espinosa, a switch-hitter who used to sport one of the game’s most imposing mustaches, spent most of the 2011-16 period starting somewhere in the Nationals’ infield, including the last of those years at shortstop. The emergence of Trea Turner led the team to trade Espinosa to the Angels, but he seems to have left all of his bats in DC. In 295 PA, Espinosa “hit” 173/.245/.278, with his wRC+ (41) converging on his strikeout rate (37%). In that span, he drew his release from the Angels, Mariners, and Rays. A career .221/.297/.378 hitter who’s useful against lefties (102 wRC+) and dreadful against righties (75 wRC+), his best asset is his glove. His UZR/150 at second base is +8 runs, while at shortstop it’s +4.

The 28-year-old, lefty-swinging Peterson was a 2011 supplemental first-round pick by the Padres and then the Braves’ full-time second baseman the following season and a utilityman in 2016-17, with diminishing returns. He’s a career .234/.319/.331 hitter with a brutal 45 wRC+ against lefties and a merely bad 84 against righties, not to mention -6 UZR/150 at second base. He can also play the outfield corners, badly, if the option presents itself. If he’s getting regular time in the big leagues come April, something has gone very, very wrong.

*****

With so many bodies — and I haven’t even mentioned Thairo Estrada, a 22-year-old shortstop who hit .301/.353/.392 at Double-A and projects as a major-league utilityman — the Yankees obviously have a number of ways they could piece together their infield and not enough room on the 25-man roster to carry everybody. It’s entirely possible that they could open with the well-seasoned Drury at third base and Torreyes at second, perhaps in a platoon with Wade. In that case, Andujar and Torres would go back to Triple-A to shore up their games in an attempt to force the issue. On the other hand, Andujar and Torres could both dazzle to the point of winning starting jobs, with Drury and (perhaps) Torreyes backing up both and Wade returning to Triple-A. The real logjam will come if the Yankees decide that Torres is best off at third base, blocking Andjuar and throwing Drury, Torreyes, and Wade into a second-base mix that will likely squeeze one of them off the 25-man roster.

The projections in our Depth Charts don’t indicate immediate stardom for any of the top-five options here, with anywhere from 0.2 to 1.0 WAR this season as part-timers; Andujar, Drury, and Torres all project for wOBAs in the .310-.315 range, with Torreyes and Wade both below .300. But take those with a grain of salt, as projections are inherently conservative and particularly so for unproven youngsters — FanGraphs’ No. 2 prospect, 20-year-old Braves phenom Ronald Acuna, projects for a modest 1.2 WAR in nearly 500 PA this year — and growth happens. The aforementioned Chris Taylor offers a best-case example of what Drury could turn into given mechanical and philosophical changes, for example (at least on the offensive side).

Credit Cashman and the Yankees’ scouting and player development system for amassing so much talent. The Yankees have four weeks to figure all of this out before Opening Day, but it’s fair to assume that the situation will be more fluid than the first lineup of the season suggests. Barring a struggle or injury, Torres will be somewhere in the big club’s lineup by midsummer — another key piece of the team’s impressive, youthful core — and the rest of the pieces will fall into place accordingly.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Cory Settoon
Member

Seems like they are in the perfect position to just wait it out for a bit and if some of their current options flake then they can make a trade. With that depth, there is no reason to rush out and sign someone. But I could see them wanting a veteran to solidify their playoff run.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer

Moustakas still just sitting out there. I suppose they don’t want to go more than 2 years with him.

Chicago Mark
Member
Chicago Mark

How low would Moustakas have to accept for the Yankees to stay under the cap? Would he take that little for two years? Even one? Plus, they traded for Drury to help this situation. Signing Moose doesn’t make sense with Drury around. Does it?

DukeCT
Member
DukeCT

Forget Moose. He turned down QO, and it’s hard to see the Yanks giving up picks for 1 year of a not great player.

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer

I see your point, but I bet Moose matches or outproduces the person they put out there at 3B on opening day. We shall see.

RoyalsFan#14321
Member
RoyalsFan#14321

Especially an angry (maybe) with something to prove Moose.

Mike NMN
Member
Mike NMN

Even if he does outperform the others, they won’t need a long term commitment, a boatload of money, and a draft pick. Moose would be a mistake

francis_soyer
Member
francis_soyer

Excuse my ignorance, but is there a date after which teams don’t need to fork over a draft pick ? I vaguely recall Kendrys Morales sitting out there into May because of something like this.

But you seem to be right about it being a mistake, they’re not budging, and neither is anyone else.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

Teams are getting wiser about contracts. It’s long overdue and good to see.

Momus
Member
Momus

Yes, after the draft the comp on QO guys goes away so they can be signed by anyone without losing a pick.

fuster
Member
fuster

it’s not a question as to whether Moustakas would produce better in this season than the Yankee’s younger guys but more a question of whether Moose would be willing to play for the contract that the Yankees could prudently offer to him, given their desire to stay under the tax threshold and their greater need for an additional starting pitcher