Putting Miguel Andujar’s breakout season into context

The pros and cons of the upcoming six-man rotation
The Yankees lack a reliable lefty specialist, but they probably don't need one either
(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The minor league regular season wrapped up Monday and boy, it was a successful season for the Yankees’ affiliates. The eight domestic affiliates went a combined 489-325 (.601), and seven of the eight qualified for the postseason. Two tied their franchise record in wins. It was a great season in the minor league standings and a great season for many individual prospects too.

One of those prospects, 22-year-old third baseman Miguel Andujar, had a breakout season in which he hit .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) with system leading 36 doubles and a career high 16 home runs in 125 games split almost evenly between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He struck out 71 times in 522 plate appearances, or 13.6% against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Heck, Andujar even went 3-for-4 with a double in his one-game MLB cameo in June.

Andujar is not new to the organization. The Yankees signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic for $750,000 back in July 2011, and he’s gradually worked his way up the minor league ladder since. For the first few seasons of his career Andujar would have a slow first half and a great second half. The last two years he’s been able to put together strong seasons from start to finish, and he’s continued to get better:

  • 2015: .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) at High-A
  • 2016: .273/.332/.410 (111 wRC+) at High-A and Double-A
  • 2017: .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) at Double-A and Triple-A

Andujar’s breakout season landed him in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list recently — he slid in at No. 100 once Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers graduated to the big leagues — and I’m hopeful he’ll pop up on a few more top 100 lists next spring. I’ve been an Andujar fan for a while now. I figured he’d be one of those “how was this guy never on a top 100 list?” players, except now he’s on a top 100 list.

Anyway, I like Andujar because he has power and because he doesn’t swing and miss often. He doesn’t walk much either (5.6% this year), so he is a free swinger, but he gets the bat on the ball consistently and makes it work. It’s a low walk/low strikeout profile rather than the always scary low walk/high strikeout profile. Martin Prado and Pablo Sandoval are good examples of low walk/low strikeout players, at least when they were in their primes.

To help put Andujar’s skill set — lots of contact and above-average power — into context, I decided to plot 2017 minor league K% and ISO rates. I set the minimum at 400 plate appearances to exclude the short season leagues, weeded out the stat-skewing Mexican League players, and wound up with 707 players. Their strikeout and isolated power rates:

2017-milb-k-vs-iso

There aren’t many dots around Andujar at all. The combination of contact and power is unusual. In fact, only two minors leaguers had a lower strikeout rate and a higher ISO than Andujar this year. One was Rangers prospect Willie Calhoun. He went from the Dodgers to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish trade and posted an 11.4% strikeout rate and a .272 ISO while spending the entire season in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

The other prospect? Yankees first baseman Mike Ford. Ford had a 13.5% strikeout rate and a .201 ISO. Maybe we should talk about Mike Ford more? Then again, he’s three years older than Andujar and played most of the season in Double-A, and like Calhoun, he’s a bat-only guy. Ford and Calhoun are essentially positionless. Andujar has a rocket arm and the tools to be a good defensive third baseman, even if the Yankees don’t consider him one yet.

(A third prospect, Dodgers outfielder Matt Beaty, put up a .179 ISO with an 11.2% strikeout rate this year, so he came close to the Andujar benchmark. Beaty is also two years older and spent the entire season in Double-A, so yeah.)

Going back through previous years, the number of prospects who did what Andujar did this year (13.6 K% and .182 ISO) at the same age (22) and at the same levels (Double-A and above) is quite small. The previous five seasons:

  • 2016: Willie Calhoun (11.6 K% and .215 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2015: Max Kepler (13.1 K% and .209 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2014: Mookie Betts (10.8 K% and .183 ISO at Double-A and Triple-A) and Giovanny Urshela (12.7 K% and .210 ISO at Double-A and Triple-A)
  • 2013: Maikel Franco (10.6 K% and .224 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2012: Oscar Taveras (10.5 K% and .252 ISO at Double-A)

That is quite a list of names. Kepler, Betts, and Franco are all big leaguers who have, at one time or another, looked like absolute stars. Taveras was baseball’s top prospect and next superstar when he was tragically killed in a car accident. Calhoun has not yet played in the big leagues but should soon — I’m guessing he’ll get a September call-up any day now — and Urshela basically stopped hitting after that big 2014 season. He’s the cautionary tale.

This isn’t to say Andujar is the next Mookie Betts or the next Giovanny Urshela or the next anyone. He’s not. He’s the next Miguel Andujar. It’s just meant to show how difficult it is to do what Andujar did this year, to hit for that much power while making that much contact at that age at those levels. One or two guys a year do it, and the guys who have done this sorta thing before were all considered among the game’s best up-and-comers at one point.

Andujar is, of course, a flawed prospect. Most are. He is still an impatient hitter, and when you swing so freely, you’re inevitably going to chase out of the zone and hit into some weak outs. Andujar also has to improve his defense. It’s more about breaking bad habits than refining skills or even a lack of skills. And there’s time to do that. Andujar is only 22 and he has two minor league option years, if necessary. His offense has really come together. Now he needs to do the same defensively.

At some point the Yankees will give Andujar a September call-up — “I think at some point he will be (up). As of right now, we have not made that decision to bring him up,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty earlier this week — and I don’t expect him to play a whole lot down the stretch. The Yankees are in the postseason race and they’re going to lean on their regulars. Where Andujar fits in the long-term is another question. For now, he’s raised his prospect stock quite a bit the last two years, and this year he showed a rare combination of power and contact.

The pros and cons of the upcoming six-man rotation
The Yankees lack a reliable lefty specialist, but they probably don't need one either