TAMPA — This, late Tuesday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field, represented why Estevan Florial belongs in the Yankees’ major league camp.
This, when the 20-year-old committed what could have been a game-losing gaffe and failed to drive in what would have been the game-winning run.
“A good teaching moment there,” said Aaron Boone, sounding like a public-service announcement, “and something to grow on.”
Florial, the center fielder whom Brian Cashman calls a “tool shed” because of his impressive ability to hit, hit with power, throw, run and field, is the talk of Yankees camp despite his rough one-inning stint in the Yankees’ 2-2 tie with the Tigers. The 20-year-old owns a .286/.400/.571 slash line in 15 Grapefruit League games, totaling 21 at-bats, and has people talking as much about his steady head as his explosive athleticism.
He stands as the favorite to win the James P. Dawson Award, given annually to the best rookie in Yankees camp, because the club decided to push its most compelling prospect in what has turned into one of the industry’s best farm systems.
“I remember discussing this winter, as [Yankees vice president of baseball operations] Tim Naehring and others suggested whether Florial should come to camp or not, and they were pushing for it, thinking it would be a great experience for him,” Cashman said Tuesday before the game. “And so we put him in camp and he’s done a great job. Obviously, with Ells’ injury and Frazier’s injury, he’s still here because he’s getting reps.”
Jacoby Ellsbury’s oblique and Clint Frazier’s concussion meant that Florial was the obvious choice to relieve Aaron Hicks on Tuesday once Hicks tallied his third plate appearance in the bottom of the eighth, during which the Yankees scored two runs to take a 2-1 lead. Jacoby Jones led off with a single against Giovanny Gallegos and advanced to second on a wild pitch, and Victor Reyes followed by stroking a single to center field. With Jones coming around to tie the game, Florial showed off his monster arm … way too much. His throw sailed far away from catcher Kyle Higashioka, on the third base-side, and that allowed Reyes to go to second.
“Take what the game gives you,” Boone said. “That’s a play where you’re trying to do something, it’s the tying run, but sometimes it’s not there to be had.”
Florial, who said he had not spoken with any of his superiors about the play, nevertheless echoed his manager, saying, “Sometimes, I think we have to take what the game gives to you. I felt I tried to do too much because the tying runner was on second, because I didn’t have a chance to get him.”
In the bottom of the ninth, with teammates on second and third and two outs, Florial grounded out to Detroit second baseman Harold Castro to conclude the game in a deadlock.
One bad inning won’t undo what Florial has done in his camp, further cementing the untouchable status he gained last summer.
“Just the way he carries himself, as much off the field as on the field,” Brett Gardner said of Florial, who was born in Haiti and grew up in the Dominican Republic. “Very hard worker. Very focused. And he’s very, very talented, man. He’s got a lot of tools.”
New Yankees first base/outfield coach Reggie Willits, who spent the three prior seasons as an organizational outfield and base-running coordinator — a role that often paired him up with Florial — said, “I’ve seen guys with that kind of speed, but not with the combination of the other tools to go with it. He can impact the baseball. His arm strength. He’s a pretty special player.”
A scout who has seen Florial play extensively opined, on the condition of anonymity: “He just needs to learn the strike zone and develop that combination of patience with aggressiveness. He can be a really good big-league player.”
Florial will start 2018 at Class-A Tampa, where he finished last year, so a big league call-up this season ranks as unlikely. The Yankees hope that his sharing a clubhouse with “a lot of All-Star players here,” as he put it, will enhance his already quick learning curve. Since signing with the Yankees as a 17-year-old, his status delayed by confusion surrounding his identity, Florial has learned both baseball and English at remarkable speeds.
“Now it’s about getting as many reps to refine those tools and see how far it takes him,” Cashman said.
He’ll be better for having gone this far this soon, hard lessons and all.
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