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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Estevan Florial

Florial will look to stay healthy and show that he can play consistently at the upper levels of the system in 2021.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Well removed from his breakout 2017 season where he put up big numbers with Low-A Charleston, Estevan Florial is still looking for a worthy follow up campaign. Two separate hand and wrist injuries followed by the COVID pandemic have resulted in three straight years that have left player, team, and fans wanting more. With the potential of four above-average tools the Yankees will be hoping that he can stay on the field and show progress in 2021.

As a member of the 40-man roster, he is a quick roster move away from seeing time in the majors just as he did last August when the Yankees activated him for one game. Let’s take a look at what the Yankees will be hoping to see from Estevan Florial in 2021 and what would constitute a successful season.

2020 Stats: 3 PA, .333/.333/.333, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 66.7 K%, 0.0 BB%, 84 wRC+, 0.0 WAR

2021 ZiPS Projections: 410 PA, .196/.247/.325, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 39.3 K%, 6.3 BB%, 47 wRC+, -1.3 WAR

Despite the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, Estevan Florial was able to maximize his development time as much as any prospect could in his position. As a member of the 40-man roster, he was in spring training with the big league club before the postponement of baseball activities until July. When summer camp picked up ahead of the season, Florial was again with the team as they trained and scrimmaged in the leadup to the season. Prior to opening day he was assigned to the alternate training site in Scranton.

While at the alternate training site the Yankees hitting coaches were able to work with Florial in a development-heavy environment. Having never played a regular season game above High-A Tampa, the Yankees saw Florial face Double-A, Triple-A and MLB level competition on a daily basis in Scranton last summer. The Yankees also challenged Florial with steady doses of left-handed pitching, giving him a chance to improve in that situation. The Yankees reported that he hit 12 home runs during his live at-bats at the alternate site, although without a full context of how many plate appearances and who he was facing that number cannot be fully put into context. What can be viewed as a positive sign is that the Yankees felt comfortable enough to give him that look in the major leagues, that resulted in his first big league hit.

Florial’s development did not stop when the alternate site closed down in late September. In November, he joined Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, playing alongside major leaguers such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and some of the best prospects in baseball like Wander Franco and Julio Rodriguez.

During his time playing for Escogido, Florial slashed .280/.373/.420 in 59 plate appearances — well above league average production for the year. After starting the season in a platoon role, Florial’s production and strikeout rate improved when he became an everyday player down the stretch. He was made the leadoff hitter for the team in the playoffs, going 3-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base in their first playoff game. It was a small sample size, but he did not look outclassed facing numerous pitchers with Triple-A and MLB experience.

Even if he struggles to develop an impact bat at the upper levels of the system, Florial has a chance to make his mark on a game with his speed, defensive range, and what FanGraphs stated in their prospect rankings as “one of the best throwing arms I’ve ever seen.” Elite defensive tools could give him the chance to help the Yankees in short stints should the injury bug strike again.

Where Florial starts the season is an interesting question. Several days ago it was reported that he had not arrived at spring training yet due to an issue with his work visa. The Yankees also re-signed Brett Gardner which adds another layer of depth to the organization before they would be calling on Florial to man one of the outfield positions. Normally he would seemed ticketed for Double-A Somerset, but considering that their season does not start until May 4th, Florial might get assigned to Triple-A Scranton for the first month of the year so that he can develop in a game setting while waiting for the rest of the minors to begin.

A successful season for the 23-year-old Florial will hinge on his health and production. After three lost seasons in a row, can he play 120 games or more in the upper levels of the system? He will also have to show that he can produce against said competition, especially in a season with an interesting scheduling twist. The minor leagues are structured this year pitting teams against each other for six straight games, allowing teams to build a comprehensive scouting report over the course of one series. If there are glaring holes in his swing or approach at the plate, Double-A and Triple-A pitchers will be able to identify it and exploit it very quickly.

Estevan Florial has struggled to stay on the field over the last several years since his tremendous 2017 season. After a strong winter playing in the Dominican Republic, he has the opportunity to regain some momentum and shine as a top prospect — not just for the Yankees, but across all of baseball. Health and adjustments to higher level pitching are the key for his 2021 and regaining his path to a regular role with the Yankees.