Let’s Get Florial in Center!
By Cary Greene
August 2, 2021
Leading up to the deadline, we all scrutinized the Yankees roster. It was kind of neat to see all of us here at SSTN in lock step with Brian Cashman. All season we’ve been lamenting about the lack of production the Yankees were getting from centerfield and Cashman certainly did something about that by acquiring Joey Gallo from the Rangers.
But, in the weeks leading up to the deadline, something very interesting also happened. The Yankees got significant production from Ryan LaMarre, Greg Allen and Estevan Florial. It’s been amazing – so much so that the Yankees have some big decisions to make. Estevan Florial was sent down, but I’m think he should be brought back up and put into centerfield.
Estevan Florial has made his presence felt. There is no position on the diamond more crucial to the Yankees than centerfield and Brett Gardner’s Yankee career is coming to a close, Florial may become a vital, controllable piece for the Yankees and I’m really happy Cashman has hung onto him at this year’s deadline. I’m kind of shocked that the Rangers didn’t want him included in the trade to be honest.
Why is centerfield so crucial to the Yankees?
Centerfield is Crucial to the Yankees Success and it Always Has Been:
Up until the last two days, the Yankees were mostly overplaying Gardy and the results were not good at all.
Part of Gardy’s struggles are that he’s pounding the ball into the ground a lot more this season and when he does lift it, the results often lead to harmless fly balls. I won’t bore you with all the statcast gobbledygook but the numbers do suggest this is what is happening. In short, Gardy is rolling over on a lot of pitches and the results are easy outs a lot of the time.
Joe DiMaggio Gardy isn’t, let’s put it that way!
Like the famous song by Simon & Garfunkel goes, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…woo-hoo-hoo.” As for Mickey Mantle, he hasn’t been seen since ‘69 but Mick the Quick Rivers and Burn-Baby-Burn Williams weren’t too bad were they? Let’s also not forget Bobby Murcer and Rickey Henderson.
Cenerfield has always been the iconic position for the Yankees, dating back to the original difference maker, Earle Combs, the celebrated table-setting centerfielder for the heralded Murderers’ Row lineups of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig if you want to talk about how important centerfield is and always has been to the Yankees. Combs was known for his ability to lash line drives, chase fly balls in the outfield gaps and exhibit blazing speed on the base paths. Combs was part of four AL pennant-winning clubs and three World Series championships over a dozen years with the Yankees, “The Kentucky Colonel” batted .325 in a career that was cut short by injuries.
Centerfield is an extremely important position but to the Yankees, it is the most important position on the diamond because it’s probably the hardest to play effectively in Yankee Stadium and it could even be a borderline catastrophic issue in a close game in other ballparks as well.
Take Fenway Park, for example, where the Yankees play nine games a year. Fenway has to qualify as “the most difficult” centerfield in all of baseball. The Green Monster stretches into left-center, creating all sorts of potential caroms and challenges when trying to back up the leftfielder. Opposing centerfielder’s dread having to chase a well-struck ball to the deepest part of Fenway Park. The centerfield triangle is located to the left of the Red Sox bullpen, 420 feet from home plate. A ball that falls safely into play inside the triangle usually means at minimum a triple, even for the slowest afoot; one bad bounce, and you could be looking at an inside-the-park home run. What also poses a challenge is not the 17-foot-high bleacher wall but the bullpen fence that slopes from about nine feet down to five feet leading away from the wall; many fielders keeping their eyes too long on the ball have found themselves stopped dead in their tracks with the wind knocked out of them, again as the ball bounces around like a pinball. Oddly enough, a “bad” bounce can also spell bad luck for a batter who watches a well-struck ball bounce into the bullpen, which means that a sure triple becomes “only” a double.
Estevan Florial Got a Marvelous Cup of Coffee:
Many fans were clamoring for Florial to be brought up and their wishes came true when the Yankees decided to give him a cup of coffee, which was clearly a decision made out of blind desperation.
The naysayers were concerned he couldn’t handle Major League pitching but he hit .300 (6-for-20) in his brief stay in he big leagues. Granted it’s a tiny sample size but that’s not the point. Lots of people wanted him called up and they were right, Florial was capable of making a difference and he did precisely that!
What’s best for Florial going forward is regular at bats. If the Yankees can give them to him, that would be pretty cool but the outfield is getting crowded now and I’m not sure the at bats are there, which begs the next big question… mostly, will the regular at bats come only in the minors?
Is Florial the Solution for This Season and Beyond?
Florial has helped the Yankees because he’s made the Yankee offense a lot more dynamic. He’s brought speed, a knack for hitting in the clutch, and some power to the table. He’s also a left handed hitter that opposing pitchers have to be careful with. In other words, he has not been overmatched. At all.
I’ve loved watching Estevan Florial play. He’s a big reason I’ve been watching games lately. Now, it’s Florial and the new guys…
Examining Florial’s Defense:
Everyone was focused on how Florial was adjusting to Triple-A pitching and he began to show some serious progress, while also being a bit shaky in Scranton on defense, making two errors in the RailRiders outfield. Florial also showed how valuable an outfielder with a strong arm can be, especially in centerfield, by recording an impressive 4 assists in only 39 games for Scranton. So how has he looked in the field for the Yankees?
Reaching from the bottom of my heart and with due respect for Florial’s considerable efforts to date since he’s been called up, Estevan Florial showed that he has a ton of work to do defensively before we could say he’s capable of holding down centerfield for the New York Yankees. Of course, if he’s going to keep hitting around .300 with an OPS of over 1,000, who cares if he’s got a ton of learning to do on defense? He’s fast enough to get to most balls and if he botches a ball now and then, the net gain would more than make up for where he’s at defensively.
Stretching almost as far as the eye can see, from a ground level view, centerfield at Yankee stadium is an intimidating expanse. Whoever suits up in pinstripes as a centerfielder has to cover the entire pasture, pretty much by himself. At times a Yankee centerfielder may be dashing at full speed towards a gap and he needs to be able to communicate on-the-fly and take charge. This is a skill that a pure centerfielder learns at a young age, maybe as early as little league baseball and one he hones while developing in the collegiate ranks and then up through the minor leagues until one day, when it’s finally show time.
In Florial’s defense, he took up baseball very late to be making a career out of it and he didn’t have the luxury of being taught baseball at an early age. Sure, he’s toolsy as all get out and has tons of promise, but he basically has little to no idea what he’s doing on defense because he’s had little to no true experience actually “playing” centerfield. He’s also lost significant development time to injuries and even lost an entire year due to the pandemic. Florial was plopped in centerfield because of his speed and his arm – both of which are exceptional. Analytics guys were all in on this decision after all.
The Yankees are going to need an outfielder capable of holding down centerfield on the roster going forward. I don’t think the long-term answer is Joey Gallo or Aaron Judge. Whomever the player is, be it Greg Allen or Estevan Florial, or a player who is as of yet unknown, an opportunity does exist.
I’m hoping that with more seasoning at Triple-A, that Florial continues to develop and he is back in the Bronx before long helping to lead Cashman’s Yankees o a strong finish and a pennant race in 2021.