Miguel Andujar takes aim at Gleyber Torres’ Rookie of the Year title

As we approach the home stretch of the season, an overlooked candidate is charging toward the American League Rookie of the Year crown.

Just like most award races, the chase for the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year title has gone through phases.

In spring training, Los Angeles Angels Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani was the heavy favorite. One of the most highly-touted international prospects in recent memory, Ohtani hit the ground running.

The dual-threat stud led the Angels to a 13-3 start, hitting .367 in that span and sporting a sky-high OPS of 1.192. He struck out 18 batters in his first two starts — two Angels wins.

Then the injury came, and the regression came, and around the same time, Gleyber Torres came.

The New York Yankees‘ top prospect, acquired in the 2016 Aroldis Chapman trade, burst onto the scene in May after being called up from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Torres hit nine homers and slugged a preposterous .663 in the month of May en route to winning the AL Rookie of the Month.

Torres was lauded for his poise and composure at the plate at just 21 years old. He routinely provided big hits late in close games for the Yankees, at one point homering in four consecutive games. His energy and attitude quickly made him a fan favorite in the toughest market in sports. With Ohtani battling injury, Torres appeared to be running away with the AL Rookie of the Year award.

But the first-time All-star cooled off late in June, and then found himself on the disabled list in early July with a right hip strain. Torres missed three weeks, and has struggled mightily upon his return to the lineup. His batting average — which once sat steadily in the .330s – has dipped to .259. He’s striking out at a massive clip since the injury, and carrying a paltry .143/.246/.321 slash line through 65 plate appearances in August.

Luckily for the Yankees, as Torres cooled off, third baseman Miguel Andujar heated up. Andujar had played second fiddle to Torres in the first half, providing solid production in the middle of the order but being perpetually overshadowed by Torres’ star. Andujar won his own Rookie of the Month award in June, but he has really shined in August.

He’s hit doubles at an above-average rate all season, but become an extra-base hit machine this month. His .667 slugging percentage and 1.014 OPS do a good job of showing that. Andujar’s bat carried the Yanks to a win over the Blue Jays Saturday afternoon as he drove in three runs and was just a triple short of the cycle.

Andujar is closing in on the Yankees’ franchise record for doubles by a rookie in a season. That’s held by a guy who was a pretty darn good hitter — Joe DiMaggio. He’s not far off the all-time American League record for doubles by a rookie, either.

For an offense slumping with big bats Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez on the disabled list, Andujar has been a savior. He’s taken Torres’ job of providing a late-game punch to push a struggling lineup over the edge.

If recency bias factors into the voters’ decisions come season’s end, Andujar will be well on his way to the AL Rookie of the Year crown. Even if it doesn’t, his full body of work will likely push him past his teammate, anyway.