Yankees: 3 dark horse candidates to win the left field job

New York Yankees, Estevan Florial
Mar 14, 2022; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees outfielder Estevan Florial (90) during spring training workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As we already know, the Yankees are gearing up for a big position battle in left field this spring training. With live action starting in just a few days, the expectation is that Aaron Hicks holds a slight advantage to win the job, but coming off a few down seasons, he could easily fall out of favor if another option rises to the occasion.

In 2022, Hicks hit .216 with a .330 OBP, eight homers, and 40 RBIs across 130 games. Those numbers are simply unacceptable for a player earning $10.5 million this upcoming season.

Unfortunately, his Steamer projections have him hitting .223 with a .330 OBP, 10 homers, and 38 RBIs across 94 games. While he has a bit more production over a smaller sample size, he cannot be trusted as an everyday player, which is why Oswaldo Cabrera also has a ripe opportunity to take the job right out from under him.

However, Cabrera is a raw prospect that still needs plenty of development. Despite putting together an extravagant defensive season in 2022 across 44 regular season games, his offensive qualities need plenty of work. This ultimately leaves the door wide open for other players to make a run, and the Yankees have three gearing up to compete.

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Three dark horse candidates to win the left field spot for the Yankees:

1.) Estevan Florial

This is Estevan Florial‘s final chance at glory with the Yankees, having struggled over 17 MLB games last season. He hit .097 with a .200 OBP and just one RBI.

His AAA numbers are solid, hitting .283 with a .368 OBP, 15 homers, 46 RBIs, and 39 stolen bases last year. The problem is he hosted a 30.4% strikeout rate that continues to balloon every time he touches an MLB baseball diamond. He has all the tools to be a phenomenal Major League player but simply hasn’t been able to put it together up to this point. This will be his final opportunity to win a starting job before the Yankees may have to let him walk, considering he has no Minor League options left.

New York Yankees, Estevan Florial
USA Today

2.) Willie Calhoun

Willie Calhoun winning the starting left-field job would be a surprise, but I wouldn’t rule out a resurgent season. He spent the 2022 campaign playing with Texas and San Francisco, making just 22 appearances. His last productive campaign came back in 2019 when he hit .269 with a .323 OBP, 21 homers, and 48 RBIs. He hosted a 15.3% strikeout rate, showcasing good patience.

The problem is, he’s not the most athletic defender, playing 1282 innings in left field throughout his career, hosting a .983 fielding percentage with -14 defensive runs saved and -14 outs above average. I don’t expect those numbers to change anytime soon, so while Calhoun has a good opportunity to prove his worth, he would need to have a spectacular spring to earn a roster spot.

3.) Rafael Ortega

There’s a good argument to make that Rafael Ortega could be in the mix to play left field next season. At 31 years old, he’s two years younger than Hicks and hit .241 with a .331 OBP, seven homers, and 35 RBIs with 12 stolen bases last year. He posted a 20% strikeout rate and 12% walk rate, the highest number in his career, showcasing good patience at the plate.

In 2021, he hit .291 with a .360 OBP, so if he’s capable of posting a 122 wRC+ again, he deserves to start in left field. Defensively, he’s played just about 700 innings in left, posting a .976 fielding percentage with -2 defensive runs saved and -2 outs above average. His numbers have gotten better over time, representing an average defender with upside in the batter’s box. His lefty bat obviously serves an important purpose in Yankee Stadium, so keep a close eye on Ortega as a potential dark horse competitor.