The game of baseball isn't supposed to be easy. Hitting, fielding, running, throwing, and power: Even some of the best Major League All-Stars may be just proficient enough in one or two of these traits and still be considered among the game's elite.
In a talent-laden RiverDogs roster, even a casual fan at The Joe can't overlook the dazzling display of the 19-year old Dominican outfielder, catapulting to the grass for a diving play, belting a monster home run, and stealing a base on a helpless South Atlantic League catcher. Estevan Florial is making the game look easy.
Signed by the Yankees during the 2014 international signing period, the young, toolsy outfielder was surrounded by the weight of expectation and Florial couldn't help but feel nervous in his first professional game in the Dominican Summer League in 2015.
"It was from my first year in the D.R. when I was playing with the Yankees. That was my first professional game. I was like 'oh my God, hopefully that ball [the first of the game] is not hit to me. I don't want to get an error,'" Florial recounts with a wry smile. "Then somebody hear that [crack of the bat] and the ball was coming to me and I said 'oh my God, how am I going to try now?' And when I made the throw, it was an error."
The young outfielder would settle in just fine following the early mishap, hitting.313 with seven home runs in 57 games to be named the DSL's Co-MVP. The wiry 6'1" outfielder ranked second in the league in slugging (.527) and third in RBI and OPS (.921) in his first pro season.
What also added pressure was a delay that had prevented the Yankees from signing him the year prior. After being told he would sign for upwards of $2 million with his favorite team growing up, Major League Baseball suspended Florial for a season after a discrepancy in his paperwork. After the year off, General Mananger Brian Cashman and the Yankees decided to stick with him, a gesture that Florial will never forget.
"It made me feel very happy. When I realized the Yankees were still interested in me, that they wanted to sign me no matter what was going on with my paperwork, that made me feel very happy. They were my favorite team and the team I wanted to sign with…I was very, very excited."
Although signing for a sum much less than the original figures projected for one of the top prospects available from the Dominican, Florial hit the ground running. For the first time in Cashman's career, he was fielding calls about trades asking for a player who had never appeared in a game outside the D.R.
In his next season, Florial was assigned stateside to play a short season with the rookie-ball Pulaski Yankees where he swung the bat to the tune of a .225 average while adding seven home runs and 25 RBI in 60 games in the Appalachian League. Packing up his bags after Pulaski's final game on August 31, he was called into manager Tony Franklin's office.
"I think after this game, the next game, the season in Pulaski was going to be over. I didn't think I was going to get the call up, because I wasn't that good, I wasn't having that great of a season. So when the manager called me and said 'hey, congratulations, you're going to Charleston,' I was like 'what?!?' I was very surprised…I was very happy I was going to play with them, and in the playoff so it was a special moment for me."
So Florial made the five-and-a-half-hour trip down to Charleston and less than 24 hours later was in the starting lineup. In a new setting and playing at his first game at the Class A level, Florial was again nervous, but his instincts would kick in right away.
"That was like my first at-bat in Charleston, I was a little anxious; I was nervous. I was like 'all these people, oh my goodness.' In Pulaski, they have very little people, not like in Charleston with all of these people…The first at-bat, I had a walk, the second one was a triple. When I hit the first ball [and tripled], I thought 'okay this [the game] is the same thing.'
After tripling in his first official at-bat as a RiverDog, Florial launched a towering homer to right field in a memorable 2-for-4 Charleston debut at The Joe against Hagerstown.
Playing as part of a talented outfield corps this season that includes Yankees first-rounder Blake Rutherford, Florial, a natural centerfielder, has had the opportunity to play all over the outfield.
"It's not that easy, but it's something that if you're working on it, you can adjust to it. It's something like mentally you have to know where you're at so if you're playing centerfield you have to have that mentality like you play center field. When you're in right field in that situation you have to know that the centerfielder has priority over you. You have to know the field too. You have to know how is the angle, how does the ball hit the bat, where it's going so it's something you have to know before the game has started. Thanks to all the staff too. In Spring Training, I was working a lot about that, how to play different positions so to adapt to that position, to know how to play it."
When Florial steps up to bat, often as the RiverDogs' leadoff hitter, he keeps the defense on their toes as a power and speed combination that can lay down a bunt for a hit, or lead off an inning with solo home run, something he has done three times already this year.
"I think that's something you have to think before you go to the plate. You have to see how the different infielders are playing at. If the infield play really deep, I can try for a bunt because that can help me to get on base to help the team. When I try to bunt and they come in, I have already won because maybe I can hit the ball when they are playing deep and it won't pass through, but when they're playing in, it can pass through. And if it is the right time to bunt, you can help the team to get on base and do something to score a run."
For Florial, playing for the Yankees is a dream come true. "I haven't been in other organizations, but for me, being here is unbelievable. All the staff, all the people who are here around us. We are not like just on a team; we are a family. All the people that are here, we work together as a family. We are not just one; we are all together."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.