With spring training just around the bend, the New York Yankees are preparing for a position battle in left field. Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, Rafael Ortega, and Willie Calhoun all project to have an opportunity to steal the job, but Cabrera has the upper hand.
The 23-year-old is coming off a solid rookie season, playing 44 games and enjoying 171 plate appearances. He hit .247 with a .312 OBP, six homers, and 19 RBIs with a 111 wRC+. However, he tallied 13 defensive runs saved across multiple positions, including nine in the outfield.
While Cabrera is in the lead to earn the starting job, I wouldn’t rule out Estevan Florial, the Yankees’ former No. 1 ranked prospect, as a potential suitor given his great tangible traits.
Management hasn’t settled on an everyday left-fielder, so there’s still time for Florial to elevate his game and make the decision a little bit more difficult for Aaron Boone.
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The Yankees might finally see the best of Estevan Florial:
Florial has had a polarizing experience when called up to the majors, considering he’s been rather dominant with Triple-A Scranton. In 2022, he played 101 games for Scranton, hitting .283 with a .368 OBP, 15 homers, 46 RBIs, and 39 stolen bases. Most will look at those metrics and see a quality player that can impact the game at the next level, but it’s now or never for the 25-year-old prospect.
The problem with Florial is that he has an elevated strike-out rate and chases far too often. He struck out at 30.4% in Triple-A last season with an 11.7% walk rate. If he can show more patience at the plate, he has the lefty bat with elite athleticism the Yankees desperately want and need in left field.
However, across 17 games and 35 plate appearances last season for the Bombers, he hit .097 with a .200 OBP. He struck out at 37.1%. While the sample size is small, this has been a usual trend for Estevan, with his biggest weaknesses becoming more prominent with increased opposing talent.
The former top prospect has solid defensive trades, including great range and a good arm. He’s capable of stealing bases at an efficient clip, and with the bases getting bigger in 2023, his success in that category will only improve.
Nonetheless, he will have an opportunity to compete in left field, but given he doesn’t have any minor-league options left, the Yankees can’t continue sending him down. If they call him up, they have to be committed to utilizing him or open to letting him walk if he doesn’t take a big step forward.
Realistically, this might be Florial’s last chance at significant playing time, and he may never get a better one since the Yankees have a major vacancy at an important position.