Estevan Florial | OF
Estevan Florial signed out of the Dominican Republic for $200,000 back in March of 2015, though his story begins well beforehand. The son of a Haitian mother and an unknown father, Florial — then known as Haniel d’Oleo — utilized falsified documentation to enroll in school in the D.R., which he otherwise would have been unable to do due to his lack citizenship. Unfortunately, this mostly innocuous ruse (which did not alter his age) was discovered by the Commissioner’s Office, so he was suspended for a year beginning in 2014, and was therefore ineligible to sign as a 16-year-old. The prospect formerly known as d’Oleo was viewed in a similar light as players that received bonuses of $2 MM and up, and ended up receiving just one-tenth of that.
Florial made his professional debut about three months after signing, debuting in the Dominican Summer League on June 9, 2015. He went 1-for-3 with 2 RBI, a walk, a strikeout, and a steal in that game, and that set the tone for the rest of the season (if not the rest of his career to-date). Florial spent the rest of the year in the DSL, slashing .313/.394/.527 with 7 HR, 15 SB (5 CS), an 11.3% walk rate, and a 22.9% strikeout rate in 266 PA. It was an excellent all-around showing, and his 154 wRC+ ranked 12th in the league. Numbers at that level are oftentimes taken with a grain of salt, but the buzz around Florial nevertheless began in earnest by the time the season came to a close.
His stateside debut came at High-A Tampa on June 10, 2016, which was an incredibly ambitious move for an 18-year-old prospect. It was no surprise when he was sent down to Rookie-Level Pulaski a couple of weeks later, and he would spend most of the season at that level. Florial was inconsistent and occasionally overmatched at Pulaski, where he hit .225/.314/.364 (92 wRC+) with 7 HR and 10 SB (2 CS) in 268 PA. His walk rate dipped to a still strong 10.4%, but his strikeouts skyrocketed to 29.1%, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
Florial ended 2016 on a high note, however. He was promoted to Low-A Charleston on September 1 for their stretch run, and he suited-up for five games, batting .300/.348/.550 with 4 runs, a home run, and 5 RBI in 23 PA. While it wasn’t quite enough to wash away the reality check that was his time in Pulaski, it served as a reminder of his precocious talent.
And then 2017 happened.
Florial opened last season back at Charleston, and he proceeded to rake for four months. He hit .297/.373/.483 (146 wRC+) with 11 HR and 17 SB (7 CS) in 389 PA there, and avoided any prolonged slumps. Florial placed in the top-four in all three slash stats and ranked second in wRC+, and earned a promotion to High-A on August 1. And he just kept hitting, posting a .303/.368/.461 (141 wRC+) slash line in 87 PA. He also chipped in a couple of home runs and 6 steals in 7 chances, and lowered his strikeout rate by 4.3 percentage points … albeit to a still high 27.6%.
As a result of this, Florial placed 71st on Baseball America‘s midseason top-hundred – and most expect him to rank higher on most lists heading into 2018.
Florial’s season didn’t end there, though. He made the Double-A Trenton playoff roster, and saw action in two games. He went 1-for-4 with 3 strikeouts in his lone start (though he did throw out a runner at home), and pinch ran in another game. He then continued onto the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .286/.383/.414 in 81 PA. Florial struck out 29 times in those 81 PA, but he otherwise drew rave reviews for his performance (particularly on defense).
The term “five tool prospect” is thrown around far too liberally nowadays (if not in perpetuity), and that is always worth mentioning with a prospect like Florial. He checks in at an incredibly athletic 6’1″ and 185 pounds, and it’s fairly easy to throw above-average or better grades on his power from the left side (especially his raw power), speed, glove, and arm. Some reports will throw plus or better grades on all four of those tools, with his speed grading as plus-plus. In short, there’s a heck of a lot to like.
Offense is, of course, what gets everyone excited, and Florial has standout potential with the bat. His raw power is frequently lauded as plus or better, and that doesn’t come through in the numbers (yet). What it all comes down to, though, is his hit tool. Most every report lists his hit tool as average to above-average, and it’s not difficult to see why, given his high batting averages. However, the career 28.8% strikeout rate speaks for itself to some extent, and he is incredibly aggressive at the plate. He is capable of discerning balls from strikes, as evidenced from his strong walk rates – but he is still learning how to identify what strikes to swing at, and his two-strike approach is very much a work in progress.
Here’s the thing, though – he’s 20. The flaws are real, but he spent all of the 2017 season as a teenager, and he’ll spend all of the 2018 season as a 20-year-old. And his tools are nothing short of excellent.
There are rumblings that the Yankees will have Florial start the season at Trenton, which would be reasonably aggressive. He looked terrific at Low-A and in a small sample at High-A, and he’s an elite prospect. I wouldn’t be shocked if he opened the year back at High-A, though. And there’s an outside chance that we see him in the majors this season, if only as a benchwarmer once the rosters expand. It’s worth noting that he’ll have to be added to the 40-man roster after the season, as well.
I have Florial as the Yankees second-best prospect, and he’s almost as close to untouchable as Gleyber Torres. No prospect is truly untouchable, to be sure – but I’m enamored by Florial’s power, speed, and defense combination, as well as the frequent comparisons to Curtis Granderson. I don’t love comparisons, but this one makes sense on a purely statistical expectation level, and it gives you an idea as to how valuable Florial could be. His strikeout rates certainly bears watching, but that’s okay as he’s the most must-watch prospect in the Yankees system.