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Outfield Depth: The Prospect Who Could Have Been

For all of the discussions we’ve had this offseason about the outfield, we have largely ignored the current in-house depth chart waiting in the wings down on the farm. In this short series, I’d like to take a look at a few players who could see time in the Bronx in 2022. First up on that list is a player who was previously considered a consensus top-100 prospect for his loud tools and athletic body. While the prospect status no longer remains, this player may still be able to contribute at the MLB level: Estevan Florial.

Florial is the logical place to start this series, as he is the outfielder who is closest to the Majors, plays a position of need (centerfield), and retains many of the attributes that made him an exciting prospect. The big question is: can Florial be a real contributor in the Bronx in 2022?

Stunted Development

By now, most of you know the story regarding Florial’s development path, so I won’t belabor the point too much here. Just as Florial burst onto everyone’s radar in 2017 at A- and A+ with eye-raising output at the plate, Florial broke the hamate bone in his right hand that required surgery in 2018, and followed that up by breaking and dislocating the wrist on the same side in 2019. As such, Florial missed significant development time in both 2018 and 2019. That was followed by a lost minor league season in 2020 due to the pandemic.

While Florial was reportedly healthy at the Alternate Site in 2020, and played in scrimmages and took part in other development activities during that time, he largely didn’t play a lot of baseball for 3 years. That would be problematic for any prospect, but particularly for Florial, whose biggest obstacle to reaching his potential is pitch recognition. 3 years of lost at-bats is crippling given the fact that the only possible way to improve pitch recognition is through seeing advanced pitches in real games.

2021 Performance

The good news is that Florial was largely healthy in 2021, and even made successful cameo appearances in the Bronx, hitting .300 with a homer in 25 plate appearances. The story wasn’t as positive in the minors.

Florial struggled to make contact at AA and AAA, hitting .229 and .218 at Somerset and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, respectively. While that came with solid walk rates and some power, Florial struck out at an alarming 30.1% rate at AAA, which projects very badly to the Majors. Florial’s pitch recognition issues appeared to be a significant issue at the upper levels, as he was often caught swinging through pitches not because of an inability to make contact, but because he guessed fastball when a breaking ball came and vice versa.

There’s something else we need to discuss when looking at Florial’s offensive profile. Even in the low minors, Florial typically posted high groundball and fly ball rates with very low line drive rates. That trend was accentuated in 2021, hitting line drives in just 19% of his batted ball events, which was among the lowest rates in AAA. He paired that with a 12.8% infield fly ball rate, one of the highest in AAA. This indicates that Florial’s bat path, always an uppercut, is becoming exaggerated and problematic.

In short, years of lost development have really hurt Florial at the plate. I think he’ll be able to run into home runs from time to time, but to count on him for consistent offensive output doesn’t make any sense.

On the bright side, Florial still has plus speed, a rocket right arm from CF, and good defense in the outfield despite mediocre jumps and instincts. Those tools alone mean that Florial is a viable MLB player in some capacity soon.

2022 Outlook

I wish I could write an article about anointing Estevan Florial the next great Yankee centerfielder. Unfortunately, I just don’t think it’s in the cards. I don’t expect his pitch recognition issues at the plate or his bat path to ever improve to the point where Florial will produce even average value at the plate. Sadly, I don’t expect Florial to ever live up to the promise he seemed to have years ago.

However, with his power, speed, arm, and ability to play every position in the outfield, I think that he is on the short-list for the MLB bench at some point in 2022, and he could thrive in that role, wreaking havoc on the bases and using his speed and arm to make a difference defensively late in games. I hope he proves me wrong, but that would be a good outcome for Florial in 2022.


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