Yankees Magazine: Battle Ready

Miguel Andujar is finally thriving in the Majors, but he knows the work is just getting started

September 4th, 2018

As the winter months gave way to spring this past offseason, one of the Yankees' few outstanding questions was at third base. Would the team re-sign free agent , a seasoned veteran who came to the Bronx for the home stretch of the 2017 season and made a positive impact in the clubhouse and on the field? Or would the team instead look to another free-agent option, maybe All-Star Mike Moustakas, who hit 38 home runs last season in Kansas City? Trading with the division-rival Baltimore Orioles for three-time All-Star Manny Machado, a soon-to-be-free agent, wasn't even out of the question.
But from the first workout in Tampa, Florida, , a 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was intent on competing for -- and claiming -- the job. Andujar, who signed with the organization as a teenager, hit the cover off the ball in March, impressing the team's brass just about every time he stepped on the field. But despite Andujar's efforts, when the team broke camp, it was -- a young player who had proven himself over the last two-plus seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks before a February trade to New York -- who got the nod.
Things changed just a few days into the regular season, though. Andujar was called up on April 1, and a few days later, Drury was sidelined with migraine headaches. The rookie struggled out of the gate, but since finding his swing, he has not looked back. As of mid-August, Andujar was batting .296 with 19 home runs, 59 RBI and 34 doubles, numbers that will undoubtedly earn him some consideration for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, along with fellow Yankees infielder and the Angels' . Andujar's emergence at the plate made other third-base options expendable, and Drury was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays in a package that yielded the Yankees starting pitcher J.A. Happ.

Andujar sat down with Yankees Magazine editor-in-chief Alfred Santasiere III in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park in early August to discuss his first four months in the bigs (notwithstanding eight plate appearances in 2017). Marlon Abreu, the team's bilingual media relations coordinator, interpreted the interview from Andujar's native Spanish.
Thinking back on your first two seasons in the Yankees organization, what were the most challenging aspects about that time in rookie ball?
When you are just starting out, just looking at the journey to the big leagues, and how hard it can be, it's intimidating and challenging. When you're 18 years old and playing rookie ball, the dream of making it to the big leagues seems so far away. Just staying positive and believing in myself, especially when I struggled at that level, was the hardest thing for me to deal with back then.
From your first season in rookie ball to your second, you increased your batting average by almost 100 points. What do you feel contributed to being able to make such a big improvement?
I was obviously a very young ballplayer when I started, and it took me an entire season to get used to facing professional pitchers and to recognize the kinds of patterns they were using to pitch against me. But I enjoyed the challenge, and I set a bunch of goals for myself during those first two seasons. One of my goals was to make a big improvement as a hitter by my second season. It took me a little while to get going, and I certainly needed to get some experience, but eventually, I was able to be better.
In 2016, you played really well at the Double-A level. Was it then that you began to believe that making it to the Majors would become a reality for you?
By the time I was in Trenton, I had gained enough experience to feel like reaching my dream was close to happening. I felt like because I was playing good baseball, there was going to be an opportunity for me to get to the big leagues, but I knew that I had to keep developing and continue to get better every time I came up to the plate or took ground balls in the field. I was having fun, and I believed that my skills had developed more and more each year that I was in the Yankees organization. It was really just a matter of continuing to do what I had been doing. If I did that, I was confident that I would get a shot in the Major Leagues.
From the time you signed with the Yankees, your coaches have spoken highly of your work ethic. What has motivated you to work so hard every day?
Simply put, I want to improve every day. I understood at an early age that if you want to be a better player each year, you have to work really hard. You have to practice as hard as you play in games and, most importantly, you have to have a set routine to follow every day. I still have a routine that I follow. I know that I need to work as hard as I did for all of those years I was in the Minors. I'm actually working even harder now because of how good the competition is at this level. Every day is an opportunity to get better, and the way I see it is that if you follow the routine that got you to the big leagues, you're going to continue to get better.
What were the emotions you felt when you got called up last year and played in your first Major League game in Chicago against the White Sox?
It was an amazing experience for me. Putting the Yankees uniform on that night was a dream come true. I was a little nervous when I came up for that first at-bat, but after that, I felt normal. I was playing the game I had played my whole life, and things had always worked out well for me. I was confident that everything would work out that night, as well. I was happy that I had a really good game and that we won that night. The whole experience of going to Chicago and playing the game is something I will never forget.
You certainly did have a great game. What does it mean to you to be the first Yankees player to collect four RBI in your Major League debut?
What can I say? That's an amazing statistic and something I'm proud to be associated with. To be able to have that on my résumé means that I did something good for the team right away, and that means a lot to me. Hopefully, there are many more games like that for me.
Your numbers in Double-A and Triple-A last season were impressive, especially the 54 extra-base hits you collected between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Did you feel like you took the final step in 2017 toward becoming a big leaguer?
You can always get better, but I really felt like I did about as well as I could do last year, especially when I was in Scranton. I'm not sure if I was ready to be an everyday player midway through the season last year, but after playing the way I did in Scranton and Trenton, I felt ready to compete for a job in the Bronx. I was always mindful about how much better the pitching at the big league level is, but I had the belief that I could hit for power at this level the same way I did in the Minors last season.
What were your goals going into Spring Training this season?
I just wanted to play my absolute best day in and day out, and get an opportunity to play up here. I knew that there were no guarantees, regardless of how well I played, but I was determined to be at the top of my game.
Well, it seemed like with each day that passed during Spring Training, your chances of making the team increased. How would you describe that time in your life?
I was playing good baseball, and that was fun. I really like to play hard and practice hard, and that's what I did for almost two months in Tampa. And, of course, you understand that you're creating an opportunity for yourself because you're playing well in front of the manager and coaches and the general manager. The more I played well, the more they put me out there, and I just wanted to keep that going. I knew there was a chance I could make the team, but as a rookie, I didn't want to get ahead of myself. I knew that I had to wait for whatever the decision was.
How disappointing was it to be told that you were not going to be with the Major League club to start the regular season?
Of course you're disappointed, because you want to be here, but I was determined to keep working hard and get up here as soon as possible. Getting so much playing time in Spring Training was a good opportunity for me, and I was able to focus on the positive things I did in Spring Training. I was OK waiting for the call because, at that time, I believed it was close.
After getting called up on April 1, you got off to a rough start, collecting only three hits in your first 28 at-bats. Then, you hit safely in 15 of your next 29 at-bats. What contributed to such a dramatic turnaround?
It has to go back to the opportunity itself. The Yankees were giving me the opportunity to play third base every day. When that happened, it gave me a boost in confidence because they believed in me. The longer I stayed with the team, the more confident I became. I just reminded myself that I had gone through cold stretches before, and this was no different from those times. Also, being in the Majors gave me the opportunity to take advantage of all of the resources available. I was able to watch more video and spend more time working with the coaches. I was really able to prepare a plan before every game, one that I could take out there every time I stepped into the batter's box.

How did you feel when you stepped to the plate at Yankee Stadium on May 4 with two outs and runners on second and third in the ninth inning of a tie game against Cleveland?
I didn't change my approach. It doesn't matter where we were at in the game. I was looking for a good pitch to hit, and I was looking to hit it hard.
And how did you feel after you won the game with that thrilling base hit?
Excited and happy. Mostly, I was just happy that we won the game. That was a good game, and everybody contributed. Everybody was aggressive at the plate that night. It was another one of those moments that you never forget.
As we sit here today, you're putting up numbers that most veteran players would be very happy to have, let alone a rookie. Have you let yourself enjoy the fact that you've been able to establish yourself as a Major Leaguer this season?
You know, numbers like that, they definitely make you feel good. At the same time, the way I see it is you don't stop there. You keep working, and you keep producing. This is far from the end. I want it to be the beginning. If you stay consistent, you're going to be around for a long time, and that's what I want.
So much has been made of your hitting, but I know that you're constantly working on fielding your position. How much confidence do you have in your ability to be a quality third baseman?
Having Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman say nice things about the work I've done to get better at third base gives me confidence. When that happens, you can focus on the work and try to keep improving every day.
In only a few short months, you've become a fan favorite in the Big Apple. How does that make you feel?
Proud. When people are noticing that you're working hard and that you're consistent, it makes you feel great. It means that the hard work is paying off. So, it's good to hear that, but at the same time, it gives me motivation to keep working hard, to keep improving, and to keep on doing the things that I need to do in order to take my game to the next level.
What are your goals for the rest of the season and the rest of your career?
Well, this year, my goal is to win a championship. That's our goal as a team. It would mean the world to have the opportunity to win a World Series in my rookie season. Nothing is more important than that goal, this season or any season in the future. For me, in my career, I just want to stay healthy and keep working hard so I can keep putting up consistent numbers. I'm going to give this game my best, and hopefully that will allow me to follow in the footsteps of so many great baseball players that have played before me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.