TAMPA, Fla. -- CC Sabathia, just taken out of his two-inning spring debut, had his head down in the New York Yankees' clubhouse when the sudden thwack! of a bat connecting with a ball jolted his attention.
Immediately, he looked up at a television inside the visitors’ dressing area at the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training home to see a fellow Yankee rounding the bases. The sight caused him to incredulously blurt out what others in the room were pondering.
“Was that Andujar?”
As in Miguel Andujar, the New York third-base prospect who turned 23 Friday and has been turning heads all spring at Yankees camp. In a particularly torrid four-day stretch last week, he hit four home runs. Two of them came in the game against the Phillies, provoking Sabathia’s inquiry.
Alas, the young Yankee that Sabathia saw rounding the bases wasn’t Andujar. It was first-base prospect Tyler Austin.
But that’s the way Andujar’s spring has gone. There’s been an expectation that whenever he makes contact, the ball is going to fly. With a .421 (8-for-19) batting average entering Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, Andujar has boldly and unapologetically announced his presence in spring training.
“You can’t lose your focus,” the Dominican-born Andujar said through an interpreter, when asked about the attention he has garnered this spring. “I understand what I need to do -- go out there and do my job.”
It isn’t really quite so simple, though.
Not only has Andujar been tasked with showing up -- and continuing to show out -- each day, but he was saddled with a position battle at the start of spring training. When the Yankees traded for long-sought infielder Brandon Drury just after the full squad reported, it sent a message that third base wasn’t Andujar’s for the taking.
General manager Brian Cashman said right away that Drury came to the club with a leg up on a possible third base competition.
But since the trade, Andujar’s steady defensive play and stellar offensive firepower have sparked something in the clubhouse.
“If we have a young guy like this that’s able to start camp like this, start it on fire and kind of stake his claim that he wants to be in the big leagues, it’s great for us,” said outfielder Aaron Hicks, who was in his own position battle last spring with Aaron Judge.
“He’s proven that he wants it, and that’s what we like to see,” Hicks continued. “Make that decision hard on the manager and the team.”
For now, manager Aaron Boone contends there is no decision to be made. “Competition” is too strong a word for where the third base race is at this point, he says. By the end of this month, that will certainly change.
“We just want to see Drury get comfortable, we want to see Miggy continue to develop and continue to play well and get better and better, and hopefully at some point present all kinds of nice problems for us,” Boone said.
While Drury isn’t conceding anything to Andujar, who is ranked 54th on Keith Law’s Top 100 prospects list, he’s still able to recognize how well his teammate has been playing.
“Kid’s a stud. And he’s a good player,” Drury said. “He’s playing really good right now.”
Andujar’s two homers against the Phillies came one game after he parked a solo shot off the roof of a building behind the Toronto Blue Jays' ballpark in nearby Dunedin, Florida. The game that Andujar appeared in before that ended in a walk-off home win over the Phillies when he crushed another towering homer to left.
His stunning spring may remind Yankees fans of another of young infielder who scorched through the Grapefruit League last year.
As a non-roster camp invitee, Gleyber Torres went .448 (13-for-29) last spring before heading to the minor leagues. He had six doubles, two homers, a triple and nine RBIs in 19 games. Listed as Law’s No. 5 overall prospect this year, Torres is pushing to open the regular season as New York’s second baseman.
Just as defense remains a top priority for Torres, it ranks high for Andujar, as well. To this stage, he’s had a clean spring at third, playing error-free ball through six games a year after making six errors in 14 games.
Improvements to his footwork in the field are beginning to catch Boone’s attention as much as his bat. Speaking of that bat, what separates Andujar’s from others?
“He just has an ability to square up the ball on the barrel,” Boone said. “To me, I see a lot of adjustability within the strike zone with the pitches that he can handle. A lot of times, even really good players, they’re kind of one-zone [minded] and you can make a mistake and they’re really good at making you pay. With Miggy, he can do a lot of different things in the strike zone.”
As Andujar keeps showing promise throughout the strike zone, it appears Boone’s looming decision about third base won’t be easy.