We have seen this movie before. Every time that Estevan Florial gets hot in Triple-A, a number of fans advocate for his call-up and for him to get an extended chance. When he gets to the majors, he almost always struggles, as his .579 OPS in The Show indicates.
However, it’s hard to call a grand total of 63 plate appearances across four seasons an “extended chance.” You can say what you will about how Florial has looked overmatched and how he can’t make contact. But the fact remains that Florial hasn’t really gotten a fair opportunity to struggle, work through his slump, and then resurface at the MLB level. Does Florial deserve one? Is he doing enough to be worthy of that chance? It’s a tricky thing to answer, for sure.
First, let’s start with some facts and stats. First, Florial is tearing the cover off the ball in Scranton, with a .322 batting average, a .459 wOBA, a 1.080 OPS, a .322 isolated power (!), a 17.2-percent walk rate, 12 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a 166 wRC+ in 174 plate appearances in Triple-A. Those are some really good numbers.
However, it’s also an irrefutable fact that Florial is striking out at a 32.8 percent clip. That’s awfully close to the 33.3 percent mark he has in those 63 trips to the plate in MLB. Florial is not really striking out any less in Scranton this year, but he does seem to be hitting the ball harder.
Reports have his max exit velocity north of 111 mph, which is much better this MLB max of 107.6 mph. He has been hitting a lot of barrels down in Scranton. When he makes contact, good things happen. The problem, as we all know, is making contact.
The Yankees’ dire left field landscape, however, suggests they might consider giving him a shot. They’ve combined for an MLB-worst 58 wRC+ on the season. Franchy Cordero (51 wRC+), Aaron Hicks (49 wRC+), and—most concerningly—Oswaldo Cabrera (46 wRC+) have all failed to run away with the position so far. Hicks and Cordero aren’t even with the big league club anymore, and while Jake Bauers bumped his wRC+ up to 115 with an outburst last night in Seattle, it sat at just 70 through his first 54 plate appearances entering play on Monday.
There are a few problems with giving Florial a true chance, though. One, Giancarlo Stanton is beginning a rehab assignment today at Double-A Somerset and is due back soon, so there might be a roster crunch in short order. Two, the fact that all 29 other teams passed on Florial after the Yankees designated for assignment on April 1st doesn’t bode well for how the industry perceives him. And three, the strikeouts are hard to ignore.
Evaluating Triple-A numbers is always tough because there is no conversion chart regarding expected big league production. It will always depend on each individual case. For example, Bauers was performing admirably in Scranton and, after a brief hot stretch in the Bronx, got hit by the regression monster from May 14th until yesterday. The same could be said about Cordero’s early-April run.
In fact, Cordero makes for an interesting comparison. He struck out at a 36.4-percent clip in New York, but is at 19.5 percent in Triple-A. Florial’s mark is at 32.8 percent in Scranton, so it’s fair to assume he won’t be under 30 percent if given a chance in the majors right now. To succeed in MLB with a 30-percent strikeout rate, you need to hit the ball hard.
Fortunately, that’s what Florial has been doing down in Triple-A, probably more than ever before. Yes, Cordero was proof that it doesn’t matter how far you can hit a baseball on occasion; it’s how often you can make solid contact. But given the options the Yankees are currently sending out there, can Florial really be that much worse?
At least we know that Florial has potential. At least we know he can steal bases in bunches. We are also aware that he can hit fastballs, that he will hit more than a few home runs, and he will play capable defense in left field.
If all the players you are using at left field are below-average offensively and most of them can’t even offer good defense, the Yanks have little to lose by trying Florial for a few weeks now that he is in the form of his life. If they are not going to work on an impact trade yet, there is an argument to be made that it might be their best option, other than trusting Cabrera’s own upside over him, of course. Additionally, if Harrison Bader has to hit the injured list with his hamstring injury, then it’d be pretty questionable to call on Cordero over Florial since the former is a known negative commodity at this point (40-man spot be damned).
In an absolute best-case scenario, Florial has the potential to be a modest version of the Dodgers’ James Outman. He is obviously not at that same level and no longer holds the same prospect pedigree that Outman carried when the Dodgers called him up for Opening Day. The rookie had an award-winning first full month at the MLB level whereas the Yanks’ minor leaguer hasn’t found that kind of success. Outman, a powerful but strikeout-prone slugger, is now mired in a deep slump but LA is still sending him out there most nights, giving him a fair shot at turning the ship.
Outman didn’t quite strike out as much as Florial in the minors and has more power, but they are somewhat similar when we compare types of hitter—not necessarily performance and prospect ranking. We are not saying he will, but Florial could be the Yankees’ Outman. Will the Dodgers’ masher get out of his slump? Would Florial in a similar spot? We don’t know, but at least the upside is there in both cases.
Despite his strikeout issues, Florial could offer league-average offense, speed, and good defense. Again, considering the bar isn’t that high, what is the harm on trying to find out if he can reach that potential?