Estevan Florial enters his ninth season in the Yankees organization on the Opening Day roster with something to prove. Florial has been a name repeated ad nauseam in Yankees prospect reports for years, and now out of minor-league options, 2023 is his last chance to stick in New York — if he even gets one.
Scouts started bullish on Florial as a teenager and noted his power, assuming his hit tool would catch up with more pro at-bats. Power was never the issue early in his career; Florial slugged above .425 at every level until his first taste of A-ball, and scouts salivated over his bat speed and launch angle. A plus-plus center fielder with plus-plus speed and power is a unicorn, so it’s understandable that the hype built steadily every year since he signed in 2015.
Florial put up gaudy numbers in Low-A Charleston in 2017, but his strikeout rate of 31.9 percent in 91 games represented a huge red flag, especially so low in the minors. He ran into better pitching in at the High-A level upon promotion, posting a 110 wRC+ across 318 plate appearance for Tampa in 2018. The knock against his offensive game was always his plate discipline, a common problem among raw prospects like Florial.
Scouts disregarded his 2018 struggles, focusing on his strikeout rate dipping below 30 percent that year, a feat he hasn’t matched since then. MLB Pipeline declared him the Yankees’ top prospect for 2019, even teasing the possibility that he could become a 30/30 player, all before he stepped on a Double-A field.
Heading into the 2019 season, Florial was MLB’s 57th-highest ranked prospect in all of baseball, landing one spot behind the similarly hyped but raw Jarred Kelenic. At this point, Florial hadn’t yet proven that he could hit High-A pitching, but his tools were irresistible to scouts.
In 2019, Florial’s third year at the High-A level, he regressed again, this time posting a 101 wRC+ with an ugly strikeout rate of almost 32.6 percent in 74 games. Prospect evaluators stopped singing his praises and he dropped out of the Yankees’ top five in 2020, slotting in at No. 6.
Without a minor-league season in 2020, Florial played for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. It’s worth noting that he posted a strikeout rate of 30 percent in 18 games there as well.
2021 brought realistic expectations and a promotion to Double-A. The organization and fanbase were running out of patience for Florial. He came into 2021 as the organization’s No. 10 prospect, with evaluators acknowledging his hit tool may never surpass a 40 on the 20-80 scale. With his 60 power, 70 speed, and 70 arm, there was plenty to dream about with Florial, but the hit tool never caught up. Evaluators never necessarily thought he could hit big league pitching, but everything else was there, making him a tantalizing prospect who scouts said would develop with more at-bats. By 2021, after his sixth pro season, this was clearly not true.
A 2021 split between Double-A and Triple-A brought a .741 OPS with, yet again, a 30-percent strikeout rate. At this point, Florial’s power numbers were gone, and the hope was that he’d hit enough to have any small role in the big leagues.
Florial’s 2022 in Triple-A was a welcome improvement in offensive production: the now 24-year-old former top prospect produced an OPS of .850 and a 124 wRC+. It was nice to see his power numbers trend upward, but even in a drastically improved season, he posted a strikeout rate of, you guessed it, 30 percent.
The derailing of Florial’s hype train mirrors that of another talented but raw outfielder, Cristian Pache of the Braves, who has now bounced around with a couple organizations. Pache’s hype was arguably even more unrealistic than Florial’s, as he carried the No. 12 overall prospect ranking heading into 2021. Pache was also an exceptionally athletic outfielder assigned a 50 hit tool before having it reduced to 40, just like Florial.
Pache faceplanted in his first extended look for the A’s in 2022, posting a .450 OPS in 91 games. He’s since been cut and is now with the Phillies as a reserve outfielder. Florial, however, only has 54 big league at-bats, so the jury is still out, though it doesn’t bode well that the Yankees have been hesitant to give him opportunities even in different injury-plagued times.
Harrison Bader’s recent trip to the IL helped Florial make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster, but his job security within the organization is clearly in jeopardy. This will ultimately be a sink-or-swim year for the 25-year-old – whether it’s in the Bronx or elsewhere.