Yankees: One darkhorse candidate to win the starting left field job

rafael ortega, yankees
Sep 11, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Rafael Ortega (66) hits an RBI single against the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has already provided a few names that will compete for the starting left-field job. Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Estevan Florial will have a crack, but I wouldn’t rule out one dark horse candidate, Rafael Ortega.

We know what Hicks offers the team, coming off yet another down campaign. At 33 years old, he hit .216 with a .330 OBP, eight homers, and 40 RBIs. The last time he played a season over 60 games and posted a wRC+ above 100 was in 2018. His best days are clearly behind him, and while his wrist injury may have reduced his power metrics and thrown off his fundamentals, a bounce-back season seems to be a low probability.

Cabrera profiles as the best option in left field, given his youth and untapped potential. He proved to be a tremendous defensive player last year, enjoying nine defensive runs saved alone in the outfield across a small sample size.

Offensively, there’s plenty left to be desired, having the work ethic and confidence to increase his numbers substantially. However, some argue that Cabrera’s value is best utilized in a super-utility role, which I tend to agree with.

[su_posts template=”templates/list-loop.php” posts_per_page=”3″ tax_term=”1622326″ offset=”1″ order=”desc”]

The Yankees might be able to get solid value out of Rafael Ortega:

The darkhorse candidate, Ortega, is a solid player at 31 years old coming off a decent year with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .241 with a .331 OBP, seven homers, 35 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases. He recorded a 19.9% strikeout rate and a career-high 11.9% walk rate. His 96 wRC+ was better than Hicks’, but he was only a 0.7 WAR player.

Defensively, he spent 592.2 innings in the outfield last year, hosting him a .993 fielding percentage with -2 defensive runs saved above average and -1 out above average. In left field specifically, he broke even and generally represents an average defender. That is all the Yankees need, given his lefty bat and solid pull rate at 42%. His power metrics are OK: 33.5% hard-hit rate, 4.8% barrel rate, and 87.2 exit velocity. He’s not going to hit 25+ homers, but Ortega can hit for contact and smack double-digit home runs.

At the very least, Ortega is an almost identical player to Hicks, but he’s two years younger and could elevate his play featuring with the Yankees.

The Yankees don’t have much talent at the position, to begin with, and if they want Cabrera in a utility role, the position battle may ultimately boil down to Hicks and Ortega unless Florial explodes onto the scene and has a dominant spring, which is unlikely.