This past week in Miami, Major League Baseball presented their annual Rookie Career Development Program. This program has been around for a number of years to assist “up and coming players on the cusp of reaching the big leagues.” The program offers young players a chance learn lessons about media relations, clubhouse situations, financial planning, and more. The Yankees sent four players, Deivi Garcia, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure to the event. But the organization also showed it faith in Estevan Florial by sending him to an event designed for players ready to hit the big league level.
For an event like the Rookie Career Development Program, pitchers Deivi Garcia and Nick Nelson make sense as candidates to represent the Yankees organization. Coming off strong 2019 seasons, where they finished on the door-step of the majors with Triple-A Scranton, there are scenarios where either could end up with the Yankees very early in 2020. As two of the better strikeout pitchers in the Yankees minor league system, they have avenues to the majors as either starters or in a bullpen role. Barring injury, or a complete lack of injuries at the major league level, both are near locks to get a taste of the majors at some point in 2020.
Another pitcher who attended the event is Miguel Yajure, who is coming off one of the best seasons for any pitcher in the Yankees minor league system. Scouts noticed improved velocity, and better secondary pitches that saw him allow just a 1.75 ERA, and 0.97 WHIP after May 1st. That production earned Yajure a late season promotion to Double-A Trenton, where he will likely start the 2020 campaign. As a member of the 40-man roster, he is prime candidate for a spot start or could earn his time if he comes out and produces as he did in 2019.
The last member of the delegation, Estevan Florial is another case all together when it comes to making his major league debut in 2020. After breaking out in a big way during the 2017 season, Florial has yet to graduate from the High-A level that he finished that year at. Two injuries in the hand and wrist area have limited his playing time over the past two seasons, and when he has been on the field his performance has sagged.
Less than a year ago Florial was one of the most impressive minor league players in the Yankees spring training camp. Over 13 games with the major leaguers, he hit .355 and had an impressive opposite-field home run during a game against the Phillies.
Beyond spring training his production dipped, as he hit .237/.297/.383 in 74 games for High-A Tampa. Through the struggles there were flashes of his immense talent, such as on July 1st when he had a home run tracked at 110 mph off the bat that landed 461 ft away.
Despite the flashes of potential, the strikeouts piled up for Florial in 2019. His strikeout rate rose to 32.6%, a rate seen by few major leaguers during their time at High-A. Another concern was that his walk rate dropped by 5% from the previous season. With all the evidence that Florial was struggling to move past the High-A level, the Yankees have given him several votes of confidence over the last few months.
The first vote of confidence was the decision to add him to the 40-man roster back in November, in order to protect him from the Rule-5 draft. With a fleet of high ceiling center field prospects coming through the rookie ball levels, the Yankees still wanted to make sure that nobody got their hands on Florial through the Rule-5 process.
Choosing Florial as one of the attendees for an event that is designed to help players on the verge of playing in the majors is one more vote of confidence by the organization. Even with a solid season, it is hard to see a scenario where Florial makes it past Double-A Trenton this year. The Yankees may have seen more during his fall instructional league games, and the offseason workouts leading them to still view Florial as a future key piece of the organization.
While some of the Yankees choices to attend the Rookie Career Development Program appear to be very near to be major league ready, Estevan Florial is not. After two years of struggles the Yankees are hoping that this is the season where he can remain healthy and tap into his incredible talent. Choosing him for this event is an indication that the organization feels he is ready for this next step.