Facts speak louder than a thousand words. At the end of spring training, the Yankees released Rafael Ortega, optioned Willie Calhoun to Triple-A, and went with Estevan Florial (.536 OPS, 19 strikeouts in spring training) as their reserve outfielder. They were clearly not comfortable with their options because they went out and also signed Franchy Cordero to a split major league deal.
You could easily see why the Yankees were eager to give him a chance. The physical tools for an impact player are clearly there. Additionally, he had an excellent spring training performance with a .413/.426/.674 line, four doubles, two homers, and a 1.100 OPS. Cordero has long been a Statcast darling, a breakout candidate that never quite breaks out. He has a 118.6 mph max exit velocity in his career, so raw power is clearly not a problem. Making consistent contact and tapping into his game power is, though.
To define them in the simplest of ways, raw power is how far a player can hit a ball, and game power is how often he can hit it far enough. For example: Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker of the Houston Astros don’t have jaw-dropping raw power, but their barrel control and contact skills are so good that they produce excellent game power.
Cordero is quite the opposite. For a guy with such a high max exit velocity, his career-high in homers is eight, achieved last year over 275 plate appearances. He is a career .221/.290/.386 hitter with an 83 wRC+ in 726 trips to the plate. Injuries have been a factor, sure, but not so much as his inability to make consistent contact.
During his MLB tenure, he has a horrible 34.8 percent strikeout rate and a 65.3 percent contact rate. If he is going to have any kind of career in the Bronx, he has to decrease the former and increase the latter, with the help of the organization of course. Except for the abnormal 2020 season in which he went to the plate 42 times, his K% is always well over 30 percent:
We shouldn’t be putting too much stock in spring training numbers, but if we are saying the good, we should also say the bad. With that 1.100 OPS, he had a 0/11 BB/K ratio and hit 2.2 groundballs for every fly ball. Evidently, he has things to work on. Fortunately, the Yankees have the right coaches, personnel, and resources to help him if he is up to it. Even modest improvements in his strikeout and contact rates could make him a viable reserve option.
He needs to show he can improve with the bat, because he is not much of a defender. Technically an outfielder, he is passable at the corners but not really good. The Red Sox tried him at first base last season and he was atrocious (-4 DRS and -7 OAA in just 362 frames).
The Yankees have done this in the past (recent past, for that matter). They have adopted projects before and have had success in turning their careers around. Aaron Hicks is one example. Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, Matt Carpenter, and even Mike Tauchman qualify, too. DJ LeMahieu got quite a bit better in pinstripes than he ever was in Colorado.
Most of them had much better contact rates than Cordero, though. Still, for the price, it’s worth finding out if he can make considerable improvements and scratch his ceiling.