Tampa, FL – There’s self-reflection, and then there’s literally looking at yourself.
The latter approach has helped Miguel Andujar get off to a strong start in the Florida State League, his second season with the Tampa Yankees and earn a promotion to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.
“What he’s done, I think, is really improve his preparation,” said Tampa hitting coach Tom Slater. “He watches video of the opposing pitcher. He watches his own video, the night before. He goes into each at-bat with a plan, and then he makes adjustments throughout each at-bat and in each game when he needs to.”
Andujar’s ability to adjust within the at-bat, and as the game progresses, was on display in a weekend game against the Charlotte Stone Crabs. He struggled to hit off of Stone Crabs pitcher Yonny Chirinos in his first few tries, but in the 6th, with one out, he put his plan in motion. He laid off a couple of fastballs off the plate, working a 3-1 count, then hit a 93 mph fastball to the centerfield wall for a triple. In that appearance, he balanced patience with aggression, taking his time not to jump on anything, but knew when to pounce and drive the ball.
Twenty-four hours earlier, he’d learned that he’d been selected to the Florida State League All-Star Game. Reflecting on what got him there, it was clear that self-discipline has been key.
“I’m coming to the ballpark every day with the right mentality, I’m focused,” Andujar said. “Staying mentally locked in has been a big part of it.”
In 58 games this season, he’s hitting .283 with 41 RBI, 10 doubles and 10 home runs. Compared to last year, he hit 8 home runs all season. He’s also drawing more walks. He finished 2015 with 29, with 14 free passes already this year.
Slater saw a progression from then to now. There’s a combination of elements that are driving his success, according to Slater.
“He’s always had, great demeanor every day, great work ethic. He’s really got impressive tools. We started seeing some of that last year in the second half. Now we’re seeing that in the first half. And he’s still a young kid for this league.”
Youth and inexperience are just part of the challenge for players and coaches in the minor leagues. There’s a complex process of guidance, while also letting them be themselves that they all have to balance. But when you add cultural differences and a language barrier*, the challenge can be more difficult. The Yankees provide classes to learn English, giving them much-needed help as they learn to fit in and adjust.
“They get better at English, it seems, every month. It makes my job easier,” Slater said. Slater also clarified that there’s been no real issue for Andujar. He’s adjusted quite well.
As for the working relationship between the two, Andujar points to the cage work that he’s doing with his hitting coach that’s helped him excel this season.
“When I go to the cage with Slate, I pick up a short bat and swing with that. I work on keeping both hands on the bat. Then use a regular bat, and try to do the same. My first two rounds I just try to stay through the baseball and stay strong,” Andujar said.
When the All-Star break is over, and the second half begins, Andujar will have come full circle. Will he be able to keep up these results? Can he be consistent and possibly earn a promotion to Double-A? There are many questions, but none that need to be answered too quickly. Slater sees it all coming together, at a fine pace.
“He’s made great strides in the mental part of the game and that’s matching up with his great physical tools.”
When asked what he sees as, perhaps, the most important moment this season, something that really helped him “lock in,” he acknowledges that coming out of the gate so solid sure helped.
“There’s not one point in particular, but getting off to a hot start,” he said. “I’m just trying to maintain that momentum.”
*Credit to Tampa Yankees catcher Wes Wilson, who acted as Andujar’s translator for this story.