When Shohei Ohtani announced his intention to come to the United States in 2017, the Yankees and many teams around baseball paused their planned international signings in order to pursue the two-way phenom with as much of their international bonus pool as possible. Ohtani chose the Angels in December of that year, and the Yankees quickly used their bonus pool allocation that they hoped to use on Ohtani to finalize the signing of two talented international free agent outfielders: Raimfer Salinas and Antonio Cabello.
Salinas was ranked side-by-side with Everson Pereira as the Yankees’ top prospects from that signing class. A broken ring finger ended his 2018 season after just 11 games, but he rebounded with a solid performance for the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League – West team in 2019. With all the physical tools to be an impact player, Salinas enters 2021 competing at a crowded position group and trying to remain ahead of the pack.
2019 Stats (Gulf Coast League): 173 PA, .270/.329/.415, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 26 K%, 4 BB%
2020-2021 Stats (Venezuelan Winter League): 19 PA, .176/.263/.235
Prospect Ranking (Yankees System): Not Ranked (MLB.com), 38 (FanGraphs), 21 (Baseball America)
Salinas was the regular center fielder for the Yankees in the Gulf Coast League during the 2019 season. Scouts see a player who is capable of remaining in center long term, with well above-average speed that serves him well at the position. In addition to his agility, he has a strong arm that rounds out his defensive profile.
Salinas’s production in 2019 was good enough for a 114 wRC+, but he has the potential for more. The Yankees are focusing on improving his plate discipline so that he can draw more walks and key in on pitches to drive. The 20-year-old has the ability to hit for average to above-average power as he continues to develop.
During his play in the Venezuelan winter league, scouts were concerned about Salinas’s ability to impact the ball, as he was struggling with his swing. While that is not what any team wants to hear about an athletically-gifted prospect, it must be noted that the evaluation was built off just 19 irregular plate appearances.
In addition to receiving limited playing time in Venezuela this past winter, Salinas was also listed as one of the players at the Yankees’ instructional camp hosted in the Dominican Republic in early December. These exposures to live pitching should help Salinas with his adjustment back to the minor league schedule this coming season.
As a player with all the tools to play center field, Salinas is part of arguably the most talented position group in the Yankees’ system. He is surrounded by players like Everson Pereira, Kevin Alcantara, Brandon Lockridge, Estevan Florial, and of course, Jasson Dominguez all coming through the system as center fielders. The Yankees have already parted ways with outfielders Antonio Cabello and Josh Stowers recently, as the contraction of the minor leagues has condensed a number of talented prospects into few minor league positions. It is likely that Salinas will see time playing both corner outfield positions at some point this season as he eventually plays alongside the likes of Alcantara and Dominguez.
Salinas should start the season with Low-A Tampa, a teams that will be loaded with top-notch Yankees prospects. The Yankees will be looking for him to be the player they signed with five-tool potential. One of the first steps will be in his approach at the plate, where he will need to draw more walks and refrain from aiding pitchers by expanding the strike zone. Once he controls the zone and begins swinging at better pitches, there is an expectation that solid power production will follow. In addition to his focus at the plate, Salinas’s elite speed makes him a prime candidate to take advantage of the Yankees new aggressive baserunning program being implemented by coach Matt Talarico this coming season across the minor leagues.
Raimfer Salinas was signed as one of the top international free agents available in the 2017-18 international signing period. He has continued to display all of the physical tools that excited scouts as an amateur. This coming season, Salinas will have to continue refining his game and he has all the ability to become a much higher-ranked prospect in the Yankees’ system.