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Yankees prospect Estevan Florial needs at-bats to refine his game

The young outfielder made his MLB debut in 2020, but he’s clearly not ready for the majors and needs to improve his pitch recognition to grow as a hitter

New York Mets v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Yankees have assembled an impressive group of starting outfielders. They drafted and developed Aaron Judge, and they acquired Clint Frazier, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks via trade over the last five years. They also need to decide whether or not to bring Brett Gardner back on a one-year deal, which remains a possibility.

At the same time, at a lower level the Yankees need to give competitive at-bats to Estevan Florial. That probably won’t happen in the big league club, as he hasn’t shown he’s ready for the majors just yet. Florial badly needs a minor league season to happen.

For years, the young outfielder has highlighted Yankees’ prospects lists. His tools are off the charts. He possesses a cannon of an arm, above-average fielding, great raw power, and plus speed. You can say he’s a four-tool player, but not a five-tool one, as some outlets have suggested to this point.

Perhaps the most essential tool, hitting, is the reason why Florial hasn’t been able to master Class A-Advanced yet. He had three plate appearances this year with the Yankees, but those probably don’t take place in a typical season with minor league baseball.

He spent 2020 an the Yankees’ alternate training site, but it’s clear he needs all the competitive at-bats he can get to improve the things holding him back: pitch recognition and contact skills.

Prospect guru Keith Law had this to say about Florial in the past:

“Players can improve their pitch recognition with repetitions, but baseball history is littered with examples of prospects who couldn’t, and Florial has a very long way to go before his projected performance matches his pure physical ability.”

In 1,716 career plate appearances in the minor leagues, the athletic outfielder has 484 strikeouts. That equals to a 28.2 K%, which would be well above even the already-inflated MLB average. That’s in the low-minors, which is particularly problematic.

Yes, he has 42 home runs and 73 stolen bases in those 1,716 plate appearances, and his .273/.353/.437 (.790 OPS) shows that he can take a walk and has some decent power. But none of that will matter if he can’t put the ball in play more frequently. Florial’s best campaign (11 homers, 17 steals, 10.5 BB%, 31.9 K%, .297/.373/.483 line, 146 wRC+) came at Class-A in 2017. In that same year, he also had a very good showing (.303/.368/.461) in 19 Class A-Advanced games, and it looked, at that point, that his arrow was pointing up.

He’s been affected by injuries to some degree, but after that, he hasn’t been able to replicate that kind of success. He played in Class A-Advanced for most of the 2018 and 2019 seasons, yet couldn’t crack a .385 slugging percentage or a .260 batting average.

The premise is simple: Estevan Florial requires at-bats to keep refining his overall approach and improve his bat-to-ball skills. There’s still time for him. He’s just 22, and by all accounts, he’s a hard-working kid. But he needs to show some progress with the bat soon.

Ultimately, contact and pitch recognition abilities are the traits that will define Florial’s future and role with the Yankees down the road. If he can make some strides, he has a chance to reach his ceiling or something relatively close to it. If he doesn’t improve, he may have to settle as a fourth or fifth outfielder, likely on some other team. His defense and speed bode well for him, but the stick will likely decide if he’s going to be a star, or just another one that didn’t pan out.