With right fielder Aaron Judge re-signed and Harrison Bader entrenched in center field for 2023, the recurring question of the Yankees’ offseason has been about the player who will be manning left field in the Bronx on Opening Day. Aaron Hicks is under contract and has experience, Oswaldo Cabrera just recently graduated from prospect status and had an impressive stint at the end of 2022, and Estevan Florial is coming off of his best minor league season and is a terrific defender. Those are the three candidates to be named so far, and there likely won’t be any other prospects from the organization moving into that picture in 2023, so perhaps the next member of the Yankees’ outfield is currently in another organization.
Looking deeper into the system, there are exciting players who could someday soon make the search for outfielders strictly internal.
Who is the best prospect?
Jasson Domínguez didn’t have Judge’s offensive season, which is enough reason for some people to express their disappointment with him, but what he did in 2022 should have Yankees fans excited. At 19 years old, he progressed from Low-A to High-A to Double-A, and his all-around skills were on display at each level. He reached a crescendo with an explosive performance in the championship-clinching game, homering from both sides of the plate and driving in six runs.
Domínguez can run, he can throw, he can hit, and he can hit for power. If he remains in center field, which he will assuredly do in 2023 as he returns to Somerset, he is a premium prospect at a premium position with a bright future.
Who could make it to the big leagues?
Domínguez being in Double-A to start 2023 puts him on track to be in the major leagues within the next two seasons, and his ability to make adjustments and improvements makes that a likely proposition.
The aforementioned Florial has already seen time in the big leagues in each of the last three seasons, but the whiffs that have plagued him in the minors predictably followed him to the bigs. Florial is an incredible athlete, hits left-handed, is a double-plus runner, plays center field, and might be the Yankees’ best defensive player (let alone outfielder) in the minors, so he has value even if he doesn’t hit. Now, he just has to make the leap to the highest level.
Everson Pereira has an argument to make for being the best prospect on this list, and he is a member of the 40-man roster, which makes The Show a phone call away. Depending on what you think of Pereira’s hit tool, he could be the total package, with a chance to hit for above-average power in the big leagues while having the ability to play center. There is a non-zero chance that Pereira is the Yankees’ long-term solution in left field, although he hits right-handed and the Yankees may need to find positions to balance the lineup.
Undrafted free agent-turned solid prospect Elijah Dunham fits the bill as a lefty hitter with power who can play solid corner defense, and he has produced in both of his minor-league seasons with the Yankees. Dunham is built like a linebacker, but he is an all-around player on offense, with a 118 wRC+ and 37 steals this past season in Somerset. He looks ready to move to Triple-A in 2023 and will be a candidate to be added to the 40-man roster after this season.
Top 2022 draft pick Spencer Jones has the first-round pedigree and the performance in the country’s best college conference for one of its best baseball schools, along with his outlier size and speed, to make one think he is destined for the major leagues some day. He is the type of player where things will need to go wrong to knock him off that path, and since we know that things do go wrong, we can’t pencil him into the future Yankee lineup just yet. He certainly looks the part, though.
Who could click in 2023?
Jones had a commendable 22-game debut with Low-A Tampa at the end of 2022, and if you are willing to buy stock in a small sample, he may have already clicked. It will take a full season to get a better idea of the professional baseball version of Jones, and he has created some great expectations, but if he consistently can hit the way he did last year, a spot may be reserved for him in the Bronx in the future.
Oregon’s Anthony Hall was taken in the same 2022 draft as Jones, where the Yankees were happy to grab him in the fourth round. A wrist injury cut his debut short, but this season we will hopefully get an idea of what the left-handed hitter can do. By reputation, Hall can hit and hit for power, is suited to right field with a strong throwing arm, and is athletic enough to contribute on the bases. If that reputation plays itself out in 2023, the Yankees will have a strong prospect to add to their outfield collection.
Who could move up the prospect lists?
Brando Mayea is a brand new member of the organization, having just signed on January 15, but his reputation manages to precede him. He was given by far the biggest bonus in the Yankees’ class, accounting for most of the pool they were allotted, but many in the industry feel that Mayea warrants it as one of the top players available. The Cuban-born righty-swinger has been noted for his ability to hit and for the promise of some power developing in the future, but Yankees international amateur scouting director Donny Rowland told Chris Kirschner of The Athletic that Mayea is a “lock-down center fielder” and a “top-of-the-scale” runner.
That’s an exciting player, albeit a very young one at 17 years old. It is likely that Mayea starts his professional career in the Dominican Summer League this year, and a strong performance will vault him into the mentions of the top prospects in the organization.
Is it too early to start the Brandon Mayea hype? (Video via his IG) pic.twitter.com/CcjD06qX8M— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) January 27, 2022
Jones is already a fixture in the top-10 Yankees prospect lists that have come out this winter (including ours), but a strong first full season will give evaluators confidence to move him on up. If his impressive physical attributes continue to translate into baseball skills, Jones could be a star. The questions about him seem to boil down to whether or not he can make enough consistent contact to take advantage of his massive lefty power potential and if a player who is 6-foot-7 can stay in the outfield in the long term. Fortunately, the Yankees have a guy to show them what’s possible.
Who needs to have a good 2023?
It is the Bronx or bust for Estevan Florial in the Yankees’ organization. He is out of options, so he will either make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster or get traded; otherwise, he must pass through waivers, where he will almost certainly be claimed. If Florial has an incredible spring training performance in him, now is the time to let it loose.
Raimfer Salinas was a high-dollar signing out of Venezuela late in 2017 after the Yankees had some extra bonus money to spend in wake of Shohei Otani turning down the East Coast. The right-handed hitter was considered one of the more exciting players in the class, and his athleticism combined with the ability he had shown to hit in games augured well for his odds at becoming one of the Yankees’ better prospects. A few years of injuries, a pandemic, and uninspiring play have dimmed those hopes, though. Now noticeably stronger at age-22, Salinas will need to put together a full season (likely repeating Low-A Tampa unless he has a loud spring) and get some numbers on the board to reserve his place in a crowded outfield picture.
At 19 years old, it is difficult to put Fidel Montero in the category of players who need to perform this season, but he is one of the strangest statistical hitters you will find. His slash line in the Dominican Summer League last year was .154/.335/.297. If you are looking at that sideways, also consider that his walk rate was near 20 percent, he stole 40 bases in 56 games, hit 7 homers, and struck out almost 38 percent of the time.
It’s that last number that clouds Montero’s future. Some scouts have put 70 on the raw power of the athletic right-handed hitter, but he can’t get to it if he is not making contact. Not only does he need to cut down on the K’s, but he needs to do it drastically. It is not clear if Montero will get a shot in the Florida Complex League this summer, but no matter where he plays, he’ll need to start putting the bat on the ball to have a chance at promotion.
Madison Santos has always been a big strikeout guy himself, but last year in his second go-round with Tampa, his K-rate ballooned to 37 percent. A compact lefty hitter with 70 speed, Santos would be a much different player with the ability to put the ball in play more frequently, especially considering his consistently high walk rates. It may be time to push the 23-year-old up to Hudson Valley to see if the challenge brings out the best in his bat, because his defense and baserunning are assets. If he has another year like 2022 statistically, Santos could lose significant playing time by the end of the season.
Who deserves a mention?
There are several outfielders who deserve a mention, but we’ll go through them rapidly since they are either very young and not established, or are Baby Bomber veterans who the Yankees haven’t really validated as being among their top prospects.
Grant Richardson hits the ball hard to all fields from the left side of the plate. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts, but he can slug and will get an opportunity to prove himself.
Brandon Lockridge can run, play center, and pop some home runs from the right side of the plate, but he’s about to turn 26 and hasn’t seen Triple-A yet. That could change in 2023, and he could be a player who ends up on someone’s big league roster before it is all said and done.
Jeisson Rosario recently appeared in Keith Law’s list of top Yankees prospects in The Athletic. Once a member of Boston’s 40-man roster, the 23-year-old lefty spent time in each of the outfield spots for Somerset in 2022 and posted a 116 wRC+. It will be interesting to see where the Yankees send him out for opening day.
Aldenis Sanchez was acquired from the Rays for Mike Ford, and his game is built around speed. The right-handed hitter has seen most of his time in center, and he should make the move to Double-A this year.
After torching the rookie leagues, Christopher Familia showed promise in a 36-game stint with the Tampa Tarpons last year. The left-handed hitter has shown the ability to get on base at a high clip while also limiting his strikeouts.
Felix Negeuis hasn’t played above the complex league and he is already 22, but he has hit and put up numbers the last two seasons. He is a strong athlete at 6-feet-even and 200 pounds, and he will likely make his full-season debut for Tampa in 2023.
John Cruz is an exciting athlete at 6-foot-3 and only 17 years old. He did a little of everything well in the DSL last year, but was another high strikeout player. He could make his way stateside this summer.
Ryder Green is in limbo after playing only six games in Tampa last year, but in the past, he has shown right-handed power potential to go with average speed and defense.
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