Underperformance and injuries have plagued Yankees center fielders in 2021. Entering play on Thursday, the franchise had the second lowest bWAR of any major league team from their center fielders this season. Part of the natural response for Yankees fans is to look into the minor league ranks to see if there is an internal option coming. The good news is that this is one of the strongest position groups in the Yankees system, but the bad news is that they’re all quite young.
With openings at the MLB level (particularly after Aaron Hicks’ injury and Ryan LaMarre’s last night), the player on the top of everyone’s mind is Estevan Florial. The 23-year-old exploded onto the scene in 2017 with a dynamic season for Low-A Charleston that saw him listed on every notable top-100 prospect list for all of baseball.
Injuries have slowed Florial’s progress, and this season has represented his first regular playing time above the High-A level. Florial’s spot on the Yankees 40-man roster allowed him a chance to play at the alternate training site in both 2020 and 2021. In between those alternate training site at-bats, he also played in the Dominican Winter League, helping his team to the playoffs.
So far this season, Florial has crushed five home runs, but is hitting just .192/.276/.558 between the Double-A and Triple-A level. He may get the call out of desperation at some point, but he almost certainly needs more development time in Scranton.
While Florial is the closest to the major leagues, no Yankees prospect is more popular than Jasson Dominguez. Signed for $5.1 million as a 16-year-old, the praise from Dominguez has only gotten louder at every step of his journey. MLB beat writers recently made a point while covering the Yankees in Tampa to watch him hit in extended spring training games that rarely ever draw a crowd.
Scouts grade Dominguez with plus tools in every category on the scouting spectrum. Yankees Double-A hitting coach Joe Migliaccio recently said in an interview, “When you think about ‘This guy has power, that guy has power,’ he doesn’t necessarily have power when you compare him to Jasson Dominguez.” Migliaccio made those comments after seeing Dominguez in action during minor league spring training.
The 18-year-old Dominguez remains at extended spring training, but many scouts and observers expect him to start in Rookie ball and reach Low-A Tampa at some point this summer.
Only a few month older than Dominguez is another exciting center field prospect: Kevin Alcantara. Signed in 2018, Alcantara was the only 16-year-old in baseball promoted to the Gulf Coast League during the 2019 season. He improved as the season went on and finished with a hot .324/.360/.423 stretch over his last 19 games.
The 6-foot, 6-inch Alcantara has been compared physically to Dexter Fowler and he uses his long legs to cover a ton of ground in the outfield. Like Dominguez, he is also in extended spring training but will likely play a bit longer in the Gulf Coast League.
Two talented center fielders from the Yankees 2017 international free agent class are also in extended spring training to start the season. Everson Pereira impressed many scouts as an 17-year-old who skipped right to the Rookie-Advanced Pulaski Yankees for the 2018 season. The next year, a sprained ankle ended his season early while playing for Short-Season A Staten Island.
Pereira has been assigned aggressively by the Yankees prior to this season while displaying all the tools necessary to be an impact bat and defensive standout. He could come out of extended spring training and be assigned anywhere from the Gulf Coast League to High-A depending on where the team sees his current development.
Raimfer Salinas was a prized center field prospect when the Yankees signed him in alongside Pereira in 2017. His 2018 season was cut short by injuries and he only played a handful of games with limited production. Salinas rebounded in 2019 and played well in the Gulf Coast League. He is credited with having double-plus speed on the scouting scale and could be an impact defensive player with outstanding range and a strong arm. There are some concerns with his current offensive ability, but he has the physical tools and strength to impact the ball with more authority down the road. Baseball America ranked him as the Yankees 21st best prospect before the season.
One of the fastest players in the Yankees system is High-A Hudson Valley center fielder Brandon Lockridge. Lockridge put together a strong 2019 season at the Low-A level finishing among the league leaders in extra base hits and total bases. He is off to a strong start in 2021, but has missed a series of games recently. He is a strong candidate to finish the season with Double-A Somerset.
Currently manning center for Low-A Tampa is Vanderbilt University alumni Pat DeMarco. DeMarco broke out of the gates quickly this season crushing three home runs during the Tampa Tarpons’ 78-run offensive onslaught in the first week of the season. Not considered a top prospect, DeMarco will have to continue to perform as the young talented players around him continue to rise in the system.
Still finding their way in rookie ball are another pair of talented center field prospects in Alan Mejia and Madison Santos. Both players excelled during their first season in the Dominican Summer League but struggled to follow it up once they moved stateside. These players have the tools to become serious prospects but need to refine their swings and adjust to the better pitching they will see as they move up the ladder.
Center field is the deepest position in the Yankees system with numerous talented prospects. But the talent is matched by youth and an immediate solution for the Yankees 2021 center field woes is not on the horizon.