2017 was quite a year in MLB. A prophecy was fulfilled thanks to Kate Upton’s husband and a kid from Connecticut, a new home run mark was set, David Price waged war with a Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter burned the Marlins all the way to the ground (Dan Le Batard can tell you about it) and the shortest player in baseball won MVP. Go figure.
I know that’s a lot to take in (deep breaths, people) but don’t quit on me now. I didn’t even get to the best part. The most compelling plot of all wasn’t Verlander or Altuve or even Price throwing barbs at Eck—it was those darn rookies. Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew Benintendi, Matt Olson, Paul DeJong, Josh Bell, Ian Happ, Rafael Devers, Trey Mancini … the list goes on and on. Youth was served as the kids, many of whom weren’t alive when Bartolo Colon signed his first contract with the Indians in 1993, orchestrated a complete takeover of MLB.
Fast-forward to 2018 and this year’s youngins’ are already turning the league into their own personal jungle gym. Leading the charge is Yankees third base prospect Miguel Andujar, who might be the hottest player in all of spring training. The dimensions at Spectrum Field in Clearwater couldn’t hold Andujar and his mighty bat as the 23-year-old (today is his birthday) deposited two balls into the left field seats Thursday in New York’s 6-4 win over Philadelphia. That gives Andujar four home runs for the spring, tops among Grapefruit League hitters. Not a bad haul for a guy who went deep just 16 times in the minors last year.
Obviously 14 at-bats doesn’t constitute much of a sample size but Andujar is certainly a name to stow away for future fantasy use. The Dominican Republic native got his feet wet in the big leagues last year, logging seven at-bats in five games for the Bronx Bombers. His promotion was certainly well-earned after hitting .315 with 82 RBI across 480 minor league at-bats last year, but with Todd Frazier manning the hot corner, Andujar never had a chance to settle in at the major league level.
2018 should be different. As it stands now, the Yankees are juggling a number of moving parts. Greg Bird (first base) and Didi Gregorius (shortstop) are locked in as starters, but the rest of the infield is up for grabs. New York will likely fill the void left by Starlin Castro by employing some combination of Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes at second (at least until Gleyber Torres is ready to take over) while Brandon Drury and Andujar figure to do the bidding at third base. Drury, who the Yankees acquired in a trade with Arizona at the onset of spring training, can play almost anywhere on the diamond, though third base is his bread and butter. He could fill in as a placeholder while Andujar takes a month or two to polish his skills in the minors and that seems to be the plan for right now. But if Andujar’s torrid spring continues, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Andujar open the year at third base with Drury pivoting to second.
Whether it’s right out of the gate or down the road, the Yankees will have to make room for Andujar at some point this season. However, the future for MLB.com’s No. 65 prospect is a bit murkier beyond this year. The Yankees exceeded expectations last season and made themselves legitimate World Series contenders (if they weren’t already) by wrangling reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton away from the rebuilding Marlins this offseason. But if the Yankees want to go for the jugular, they can accomplish that next winter by backing up the truck for either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado (or both?) in free agency. Harper-to-the-Yankees once seemed like a foregone conclusion but with Stanton, Judge, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks already anchoring one of the league’s strongest outfields, clearing a spot for Harper probably won’t be their top priority. Which means New York will surely put the full-court press on Machado, and when the Yankees pursue a big-time free agent, they rarely miss. It’s unclear where Machado would play in New York—probably third base, though he claims to prefer shortstop—but his (hypothetical) arrival would certainly complicate matters for Andujar.
Like Andujar, Kyle Tucker is another prodigious talent lacking a clear path to big league at-bats. Houston’s outfield is well-stocked at the moment with George Springer, Josh Reddick, Derek Fisher, Jake Marisnick and utility man Marwin Gonzalez. And with Houston smack in the middle of its championship window, the Astros certainly aren’t going to bend over backwards for a 21-year-old who finished last season in Double-A.
But even with all those roadblocks in place, the future remains undeniably bright for Tucker, who continues to take the Grapefruit League by storm. The 2015 first-rounder only logged one hit against the Red Sox on Thursday, but he made it count, dialing up a three-run bomb to right field as the Astros cruised to a 10-5 win in West Palm Beach. That upped Tucker’s spring total to eight RBI, which leads all Grapefruit League hitters. He’s also second in home runs behind the aforementioned Andujar. It’s anyone’s guess if Tucker will keep this up, but right now the Astros have to be wondering, “how do we make room for this guy?” When it comes to drafting, Houston can do no wrong these days.
Tucker and Andujar aren’t the only young studs getting their groove on in Florida. Ronald Acuna, the crown jewel of the Braves’ farm system, is off to an impressive start this spring with five hits in his first 16 at-bats (.313 AVG). All the hits have been singles, including two in Thursday’s win over Detroit, but it’s only a matter of time until the 20-year-old taps into his power stroke. Coming off a season that saw him hit .325 in the minor leagues including .344 over a 54-game stretch in Triple-A, Acuna looks as big-league ready as any prospect in baseball. The Braves may play it safe by sending Acuna to Gwinnett to start the year, but he won’t be stationed there long. Drew Silva nabbed Acuna at 89th overall in a mock draft held Monday night. That may seem ambitious for a guy who has yet to make his big league debut, but when Acuna arrives in Atlanta, you’ll see what all the fuss was about.
AL Quick Hits: Travis Wood sprained his left knee Thursday in his Grapefruit League debut against the Braves. More will be known once Wood receives his MRI results, though Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said the injury “doesn’t look good” … Ryon Healy has advanced to fielding ground balls and throwing but has yet to resume hitting two weeks after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his right hand. The 26-year-old was traded to Seattle this offseason after belting 25 homers for Oakland in 2017 … Sean Manaea is on track to make his Cactus League debut Tuesday against Texas. The left-hander was scratched from a start earlier this week after experiencing back tightness but appears to be on the mend … Matt Chapman took soft tosses and also hit off a tee on Thursday. He’s expected to take batting practice on Saturday and could be cleared for game action if all goes well. Chapman has been nursing a sore right hand throughout camp … Randal Grichuk is on the shelf with a sprained left wrist he suffered in Tuesday’s Grapefruit League game against the Yankees. This is Grichuk’s first year in Toronto after spending his previous four seasons with St. Louis … Brad Miller will be held out until at least Tuesday after breaking his right toe in Rays camp earlier this week. Teammate Adeiny Hechavarria is out with a hamstring injury but could return to Grapefruit League play as early as Sunday.
NL Quick Hits: Eric Thames was scratched from Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Diamondbacks due to back stiffness. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with 31 homers in his first season with Milwaukee following a three-year stint playing in South Korea … Buster Posey will be held out of Cactus League action at least until Wednesday. The five-time All-Star had been playing through a left ankle injury … Brandon Crawford sat out Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Angels after jamming his right index finger on Wednesday. The Giants consider him day-to-day … Per Mark Saxon of The Athletic, Alex Reyes could return by May 1 if the Cardinals elect to use him as a reliever. The right-hander recently faced live hitters for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery 13 months ago … Michael Conforto advanced to hitting soft tosses on Thursday. The 25-year-old will likely miss the first month of the season as he works back from shoulder surgery … Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland is “optimistic” Jacob deGrom will be ready for the start of the season. The right-hander has been bothered by lower back stiffness since the start of camp … Yoenis Cespedes returned to the Mets’ lineup Thursday following a brief bout of right shoulder soreness. He went hitless in three at-bats in a loss to the Marlins … Yu Darvish was scratched from his scheduled start Thursday against the Rockies after coming down with an illness but felt strong enough to throw a two-inning bullpen session later in the day. The right-hander joined the Cubs on a six-year, $126 million deal in mid-February … Bryce Harper underwent minor surgery to remove an ingrown toenail but could return to Grapefruit League action this weekend. The 25-year-old hit a robust .319 with 29 homers, 87 RBI and 95 runs scored over 111 games last season … Brad Boxberger hasn’t appeared in a game since last Friday due to “general soreness” in his throwing arm. The right-hander is slated to throw a bullpen session on Sunday … The Phillies have been in contact with free agent Lance Lynn, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Philadelphia has also been linked to former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.