SARASOTA, Fla. – While answering a question about Estevan Florial on Saturday morning, Aaron Judge paused for a question of his own.
“How old is he again?”
“Oh, God,” Judge said with a smile.
Florial, the Yankees’ top position prospect, has engendered that kind of reaction a lot lately.
Most recently was Thursday afternoon in Clearwater, when the smooth-swinging, lefthanded-hitting centerfielder launched a fastball from Phillies righthander Victor Arano well out of the ballpark in left-center.
“I mean, wow,” Aaron Boone said of the opposite-field shot. “It’s a short list of people that can hit a ball like that.”
Florial, who did not make the trip to Ed Smith Stadium on Saturday night for the Yankees' 6-1 victory over the Orioles but will play Sunday in Lakeland against the Tigers in a split-squad game, is 7-for-20 (.350) with a 1.009 OPS in nine games.
He leads the club with four stolen bases. “It’s a weapon,” Boone said of Florial’s speed on the bases.
This is the second straight year in big-league camp for the 6-1, 195-pound Florial, whom the Yankees took as an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in March 2015. (The amiable Florial speaks Spanish, Creole and English fluently.)
He had a solid spring training a year ago, but success did not follow in the regular season. He spent most of the year with high Class A Tampa, logging only 75 games there because he missed nearly 2 1/2 months with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist. Florial ended up with a .255/.354/.361 slash line, three homers, three triples and 11 stolen bases in those 75 games.
Plate discipline has been a consistent issue in his development and again was a problem last season as he struck out 87 times in 294 at-bats with Tampa. That again was the case in an unimpressive Arizona Fall League season in which Florial hit .178 with a .554 OPS, striking out 29 times in 73 at-bats. Scouts, however, took note of how well he moved in the field and chalked up much of the offensive struggles to rust.
There has been some improvement in that area in spring training as Florial has struck out five times in 20 at-bats.
The prospect’s combination of skills have drawn a variety of comparisons.
“Athletically,” one opposing team scout said a year ago at this time, “he reminds me of a combination of Ken Griffey Jr. and Deion Sanders. Again, that’s athletically. Not projecting that for him, but the skill set is something.”
A National League scout Friday called Florial a “Curtis Granderson type,” referencing the power potential.
“He has plus speed and is athletic with juice in his bat for extra-base power to all fields,” the scout said.
Working on strike-zone discipline is a work in progress. Florial, who is likely to start the season with Tampa, has spent spring training chatting up established major-leaguers in the cages during batting practice – hitters such as Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner and, well, pretty much everyone.
“I’m learning a lot from those guys,” said Florial, who is popular among veterans and fellow prospects in the clubhouse. “I see what they do in the cage, I try to ask them why they’re doing it and try to apply that to my job. All of them have specific things they do and I ask them why they do it. I try to pick their brains. It’s not just offensively; defensively too.”
Which has stood out to Judge, who sees a potential star with an insatiable desire to learn.
“He has been watching a lot of us, asking a lot of questions,” Judge said. “He’s like a sponge. He’s just trying to soak up all the information he can. A player with his tool set – he’s got the unbelievable arm, he can hit for power to all fields, we saw that the other day in Philly – and for him to just always ask questions, always wanting to get better . . . That’s why I feel like he’s going to have so much success down the road. His drive to learn and drive to get better is something that’s really stuck out to me.”