Over the last couple of years, the Yankees farm system has become one of the best systems in the entire league. In addition to recently producing such gems as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the system has been bolstered with the recent acquisitions of high-end talents such as Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier via trades, Blake Rutherford and James Kaprelian via the draft, and Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar via the international market.
However, one of the more overlooked prospects in the Yankees system is outfielder Estevan Florial who, before the year is out, could be prove himself to be as good if not better than any prospect in the Yankees system or even all of baseball if he can reach his considerably high ceiling.
I had the chance to watch Florial in action against the Rome Braves on June 28 and, as a happy accident and as I was writing this, he was just named to the 2017 Futures Game as a member of the World team roster. For reference sake, Florial has posted a .310/.388/.522 line in 2017 in low-A with 10 home runs, 34 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases. In the game I watched him, he went 2-5 with an RBI, a run scored, and two strikeouts.
First, some background
Estevan Florial originally hailed from Haiti before his mother, who was trying to get him into school and who did not have his official identifying paperwork, enrolled him in the Dominican Republic as Haniel d’Oleo. Under this new identity, Estevan would become one of the top international prospects in the 2014 international free agent class.
However, before he could report to the Yankees, the discrepancies in his paperwork caught up with him which nearly cost him a contract altogether. After his Haitian birth records were retrieved, the Yankees and the league were satisfied that there wasn’t any intent to deceive the league per se and New York signed him for $200,000 and assigned him to its Dominican Summer League affiliate in 2015.
After dominating the DSL in 2015 with a .921 OPS over 57 games, the Yankees made some some puzzling league assignment decisions with Florial. In 2016 he played games across three levels and largely struggled throughout the year, in particular with pitch recognition and swing-and-miss issues. Usually posting a .227/.312/.371 over the course of a season is cause for concern especially when the vast majority of that playing time is in Rookie ball, but the Yankees’ player development team saw real talent and value and it is paying dividends now.
Now, the good news
Florial has an impressive toolset. His speed, raw power, and arm in the outfield stand out as the best tools, but he has a chance to be a true 5-tool guy. He is listed at 6’1 and 185, but to my eye I would guess he has bulked up a bit more than that by maybe 10 pounds. There is room on his frame for more muscle, but given how fast he is, doing so could be a detriment to his overall game and he certainly isn’t lacking power.
His swing is a bit busy to start, but he has quick hands, plus bat speed, and good feel for the barrel. He also does a good job keeping his lower body involved in his swing without messing up his timing. After getting drilling by a HBP in his first at-bat on the first pitch he saw, he jumped all over a fastball in his second at-bat and sent it for a line drive single into right with an exit velocity right at 107 MPH. He was pulling a lot of balls in the game I saw him, but a cursory look at his spray chart from this season over at MLBFarm indicates that he does a good job of using the entire field, although he does seem hit a lot of grounders to the right side of the infield.
His raw power is evident especially in batting practice, but his game power may not match it because it could interfere with his approach which is already aggressive to say the least. That isn’t to say that he won’t hit his fair share of home runs given that he is so strong, but his speed will allow him to stretch a lot of extra-base hits as is without making him sell out trying to clear the fences.
Speaking of his speed, Estevan is really fast. He hit a ground ball to the the first baseman in his third at-bat where the fielder was maybe seven to eight feet away (if that) from first and he was only out by maybe a step. He then beat out an infield single on a grounder to shortstop and the play was not close. He also scored from second on a play where he came within about six steps of catching up with the runner ahead of him who scored from third. Florial gets up to speed quickly which bodes well both for his ability to beat grounders out as well as to steal bases as he climbs the ladder.
On the defensive side of the ball, he uses his speed to his advantage and he seems particularly good at coming in on balls. His route running is a little raw and I didn’t get a chance to see him going back on any balls of note given that their opponents (the Rome Braves) were struggling to do much of anything in this particular game. I also did get a chance to see him use his arm, but it was clear that Rome (a team filled with speedsters of their own) respected it as they had no interest in testing him on the chances they had.
His outfield assist total isn’t gaudy this year, but that could easily be due to guys knowing that it would not be wise to try to get too frisky against him as opposed to him doing anything wrong. By all accounts, he has a strong arm as well. With some more refinement with taking efficient routes to the ball, he could easily end up as a plus defender in center field.
That said, nobody is perfect
Let us be clear…..Florial definitely strikes out a lot and of all his tools, his hit tool is the biggest question mark. He is an aggressive hitter, but he showed some good signs in terms of pitch selection and recognition, but some others that were less that good. He currently sports the highest strikeout percentage of his minor league career at 30.9% and he will have to improve there. He struck out looking on the outside corner and then looking again when facing a position player, Kurt Hoekstra, on the mound. Being able to recognize pitches out of the pitcher’s hand is going to be crucial for him, especially when he faces more quality opposition where he won’t be able to solely use his considerable physical gifts and talent to bail him out.
One other note in the realm of not so good: for a guy that has very real raw power and the ability to barrel balls, he hits a lot of ground balls and he will need to convert more of them into line drives. Again, this hasn’t hurt his ability to get hits because he can beat sub-par fielding with his legs, but that won’t hold as much as he advances up levels in the minor leagues. That said, his ground ball rate is definitely trending in the right direction as he has cut over 15% from his ground ball percentage over last year and his line drive and fly ball percentages are trending upwards as well. While his current BABIP of .439 is unsustainable, if he continues to improve and drive the ball with more authority, the more likely he will able to keep his production up.
Estevan Florial is an impressive athlete and has a ton of tantalizing potential. It is also really important to note that he is just 19 years old and he will be 19 for the entirety of this season. Many of the issues I have mentioned that he has are completely normal for someone of his age and experience level. For his first real taste of full season ball, he is performing incredibly well. An OPS of .910 (good for fifth in the entire South Atlantic League) is a high level of production and watching him live confirms that it is the product of an impressive skill set and talent level.
MLB Pipeline has Florial listed as the 15th best prospect in the Yankees system. Yes, the Yankees system is loaded and yes, there is very real risk in Florial’s profile. That said, that ranking seems very soft and barring the unforeseen, he should be a top 10 guy on Yankees prospects lists by season’s end.