Yankees make odd center field change ahead of Toronto series

mlb: game one-new york yankees at boston red sox, estevan florial
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The New York Yankees are setting the stage for a face-off with the Toronto Blue Jays this Tuesday night. Clarke Schmidt will be taking the mound, aiming to conclude his inaugural year as a starter on a high note.

Surprising Centerfield Swap: Isiah Kiner-Falefa Over Estevan Florial

In a surprising pre-game maneuver, the Yankees have benched 25-year-old outfield prospect Estevan Florial and slotted in Isiah Kiner-Falefa as the starting centerfielder. With the team having an off-day on Monday, Florial is unquestionably fit and game-ready. Nevertheless, the Yankees are opting for Kiner-Falefa largely because he hasn’t seen much action lately. In September alone, he’s managed a mere 17 at-bats across four starts, resulting in a disappointing .118 batting average, a .250 OBP, and a .368 OPS.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa: Contract Countdown and Future Prospects

Kiner-Falefa, who signed a one-year, $6 million contract for the season, will soon be a free agent. Initially a shortstop, he transitioned to the outfield after losing the starting role to Anthony Volpe. Although he’s had moments of impact, he hasn’t been a consistent contributor in what has been a subpar season for the Yankees. As the 28-year-old prepares to explore the open market, his future with the Yankees remains uncertain unless the team deems him valuable enough to retain.

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Estevan Florial: Earning His Keep for 2024

On the flip side, Florial has been noteworthy since his promotion just over a week ago. In his eight-game tenure this season, he has posted a .208 batting average, a .367 OBP, four RBIs, a 23.3% strikeout rate, a 13.3% walk rate, and an 83 wRC+.

Florial has performed well enough to consider himself a contender for a roster spot in the 2024 off-season. The Yankees, who are expected to have some spending money this winter, could find value in Florial’s potential to play solid defense and steal bases. His success could contribute to a cost-effective strategy for the team. However, Florial has a steep hill to climb, particularly in reducing his strikeout rate and upping his contributions in the slugging department.

Lingering Questions for the Yankees

The decision to bench Florial on Tuesday is especially curious given the recent injury to another young outfield prospect, Everson Pereira, who’s dealing with a low-grade hamstring strain. Florial may return to the lineup on Wednesday as the Yankees persist in their youth movement, strategizing for the future.

By shuffling young talents and seasoned veterans, the New York Yankees are working to navigate the present while laying the groundwork for the seasons ahead.