CLEARWATER His day finished, CC Sabathia was walking toward his locker, not watching the clubhouse TV showing the game that was still going on outside, when a couple of other players started yelling as a Yankee home run went over the fence.
Sabathia looked up at that point and rather instinctively said:
Reporters and players alike laughed. No, it was Tyler Austin who had gone deep this time, but Sabathias reaction was understandable. By then, five innings into the game against the Phillies, Miguel Andujar had already gone deep in his first two at-bats, continuing his torrid start to spring training, so why wouldnt it be him?
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Yes, the 23-year-old, who was the designed hitter on Thursday, is making quite an impression, with four home runs already this spring and a reputation for mashing.
Even when he came up last year, Sabathia recalled, he only got like four or five at-bats and he hit four rockets. Its good to see him playing well within his competition, and well see how it plays out.
Newly arrived Brandon Drury, who played third, is that competition to which Sabathia referred, having come over a week ago in a trade with the Diamondbacks, and he offered a succinct observation when asked about Andujar.
The kids a stud, said Drury.
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That was perhaps a little easier for Drury to say on a day when he also homered for the first time with his new team, showing what the Yankees believe is untapped power.
But Drury seems to understand hes going to have to fight off Andujar if hes going to win the everyday job at third base the Yankees had in mind for him when they made the trade.
Early as it is, Drury is probably still the favorite to open the season at third, based on his big-league credentials, including more reliable defense, but that could change in the next few weeks if Andujar keeps pounding the ball.
The Yankees already believed he was a potential difference-making hitter, but they wanted some insurance at third base in case he proved he wasnt ready for the big leagues, especially with the glove.
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So just how good would Andujar have to be this spring to win the job? Aaron Boone said it was too early for all of that but he indicated the Yankees would be comfortable with the rookie opening the season there.
For while they think third base is Drurys best position, he could play second if they want to open the season with Gleyber Torres in the minors.
We feel like whoever we have out there, well be good to go, Boone said. We have really good options. Brandon has already been a good player, and we think he can go to another level. And were really excited about Miggy.
Hopefully at some point it will present all kinds of nice problems for us.
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One thing for sure: the more you hear Boone and other Yankee people talk about Andujar, the more it seems hes bound to be the third baseman eventually the caveat being their potential pursuit of Manny Machado next winter.
For that matter, if the Yankees didnt need the DH spot primarily for Giancarlo Stanton, as a way of solving their logjam in the outfield, Andujar probably would be the top candidate for that spot this season.
Hes special from a bat-speed standpoint, Boone said. He knows where his barrel is, meaning that he has the ability to handle a lot of different pitches and square them up. And he walks up there with a lot of confidence.
I think were seeing a young, talented player whos eager to prove himself and show that he belongs.
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Of course, the Yankees feel strongly about Drury as well. He hit 16 and 13 home runs the last two seasons for the Diamondbacks, but GM Brian Cashman traded for him at least partly for his exit-velocity numbers, which indicate that he could hit for more power.
Drury said he worked on that in the off-season, changing the plane of his swing so he could hit the ball in the air more naturally, as he did in launching a home run on Thursday.
It was a change-up, a little in, and I feel like in the past thats a pitch I would beat in the ground to third base, Drury said. Anything down and in I was beating into the dirt. Im making a move with my back elbow now that allows me to get the ball in the air, without really trying to lift it.
Boone said it could be a sign of things to come.
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Brandon hits the ball hard a lot, Boone said. He probably hit it on the ground a little too much his first two years, so there are more opportunities for him to hit the ball on a line and in the air. Its something hes worked on and hes looked really good so far.
So far, however, the spring belongs to Andujar. At the very least he could make this a more difficult decision than the Yankees imagined even a week ago.