Yankees are staring down the barrel of a big left-field problem

aaron hicks, yankees
Mar 10, 2023; Lakeland, Florida, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks (31) bats during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees entered spring training with a significant problem at the left field position, and no matter how many times they change Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s position, he’s not magically going to take over the job and run with it.

The Bombers have IKF playing centerfield on Friday, but they continue to trot out the same players in left, despite disappointing spring training performances.

It is fair to mention that spring training doesn’t have any legitimate effect on the regular season, but it does give us a small sample size of action to determine performances against lower levels of talent, notably experienced MLB players like Aaron Hicks.

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Yankees have a serious issue developing in left field:

Hicks is coming off two consecutive down seasons, hitting .216 with a .330 OBP, eight homers, and 40 RBIs last season across 130 games. This was the first time Hicks had played over 60 games since 2018, so it is safe to assume the 33-year-old has left his best days behind him.

This spring, Hicks is hitting a putrid .231 with a .259 OBP, six hits, and one homer across 26 at-bats. He’s been striking out at an unreasonable rate the past few days, collecting eight strikeouts in his last four games with just one hit.

Considering manager Aaron Boone has Hicks penciled in as the assumed starter ahead of the regular season, we can already estimate left-field will be a liability in some ways.

Aside from Hicks, the Yankees had Rafael Ortega and Estevan Florial competing for starting reps. Ortega is coming off a decent season with the Chicago Cubs, hitting .241 with a .331 OBP, seven homers, and 35 RBIs. He should be able to perform better in Yankee Stadium with a short right porch, but he’s also struggled to a degree during spring training. He’s hitting .190 with a .370 OBP, two homers, four hits, and five RBIs across 21 at-bats. At the very least, the 31-year-old veteran is getting on base at a healthy clip, despite making contact sparingly.

Ortega could end up starting in left field to open the year simply because the Yankees don’t have any other options unless they want to start Oswaldo Cabrera.

Estevan Florial, 25, is the other player to have an opportunity to steal the starting gig, but he’s also looked poor offensively. Across 29 at-bats, Florial has just four hits and one homer, hitting .138 with a .242 OBP. Based on the lack of consistency he showed over the past few seasons, it is safe to say that Florial will likely end up being released since he’s out of minor-league options.

The best option for the Yankees might end up being Cabrera, who is hitting .267 with a .333 OBP this spring, including eight hits, two homers, and eight RBIs across 30 at-bats. They have been moving Oswaldo around to different positions, testing his utility value in case they need him, but the 24-year-old has done enough to showcase his defensive talents in the outfield.

I would not be surprised if he ended up starting in left field, despite moving around daily. If only Jasson Dominguez were a bit closer to his MLB debut, the Yankees would have a star-studded solution. Still, their top outfield prospect is expected to start the 2023 season in Double-A. He could be elevated to Triple-A Scranton quickly, making him a potential option down the stretch once the service time accumulation date passes in August.