After a promising debut campaign in the Dominican Summer League in 2015, the center fielder seems to have had a tough time adjusting to the Appalachian League. Posting a meager line of .225/.309/.357 in 62 games at the Advanced Rookie affiliate this year, Florial hasn’t had the season most feel he is capable of, including himself.
“It’s not gone exactly how I would like it to be, but we’re working on it,” Florial admitted to PinstripesPlus. “I’m working to get better, but right now I don’t think it’s good.”
When talking to Florial, the look on his face reflected that sentiment – he of all people knows the season didn’t go as planned for him. It’s hard for a player with his talent not to wonder what went wrong, and whether there should be reason to worry.
But don’t get down on the 18-year-old just yet. Coming out of the Dominican Republic, Florial was considered unanimously as the best player of the International free agent class of 2014. With plus speed and plus arm strength, his defensive potential already makes him a solid prospect. Add in his ability to make contact with his bat and projected power as he matures, and what you have in Florial is an intriguing young player.
Mentally, Florial seems to have what it takes. He was chosen to be part of the Yankees’ annual Captain’s Camp earlier this year, an event for top prospects in the organization to learn leadership and off-the-field skills. When interviewing him, no translator was needed for him to answer all questions in English, certainly uncommon for an 18-year-old from the Dominican Republic who is kept busy with a minor league baseball career.
Those attributes didn’t come without a brush with adversity. Originally part of the Yankees’ 2014 international free agency spending spree, Florial was suspended by Major League Baseball for a year after his birth certificate turned out to be false. With his original birth certificate not in his family’s possession, his mother had accepted a random one with the name of Haniel d’Oleo so that Florial could attend school in the Dominican Republic. With no name and no baseball, the consensus top prospect watched as teammates and friends signed with major league clubs and made their way into the minor league system.
Relief finally came when his mother was able to secure his birth certificate from his home country of Haiti. The Yankees signed Florial in 2015 for $200,000 – well below his original worth before the suspension – and were rewarded with an excellent outing in the Dominican Summer League, as he put up .313/.394/.527 with seven home runs and 53 RBIs during his time there, even earning co-MVP honors in the postseason.
That auspicious start could have added to the feeling of disappointment of Florial’s 2016 season. But to some, it may very well benefit the youngster in the long run.
“You need to face a little adversity, just to know who you are,” Pulaski manager Tony Franklin said. “Now you’ve got to do one of two things: you’ve got to take the challenge of this adversity and overcome, and not just meet it but overcome it, or you’re not. And I’d like to think that any athlete worth his salt will meet the challenge and do what they can to overcome it.”
If you’re a young player with struggling numbers like Florial, you’re likely to feel fortunate to have Franklin as your manager. He rarely uses stats as an indicator of talent, and focuses instead on daily improvement in his young ball players. Anyone familiar with his wisdom knows his favorite method of evaluation is the eye test, and he likes what he sees.
“When you watch him on the field, anyone that watches baseball can tell you he’s a good talented kid,” Franklin said. “You watch his ability to throw, you watch his ability to hit the ball and run and all those things and you can’t help but be impressed by his physical talent. We can look out there and say, ‘that guy’s pretty good’.”
With scouts and his own manager singing their praises of him, you could forgive Florial for perhaps feeling the pressures of being a highly-touted prospect and pressing at the plate. The left-handed hitter insists that’s not the case, though.
“No, it doesn’t affect me at all,” explained Florial. “I have to go out there and I have to be the same person.”
If it was an issue, Franklin feels he would have the solution.
“Maybe they need to stop reading stuff about them,” he stated. “And I think a lot of players would be best-served not reading those things. They got to go out and play. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but the reason those things are printed is because they’re pretty talented players and everybody can see that. The expectations are high for young, 17, 18, 19-year-old kids.”
And Franklin doesn’t have to read the press to know what he likes about his young outfielder.
“Everything. Doesn’t need to run any faster, doesn’t need to hit the ball any further, doesn’t have to hit it any harder, doesn’t have to cover more ground than what he does now,” the manager raved. “He has enough running speed to steal bases, has to learn how to do it better. He’s got everything it takes to become a Major League baseball player, just has to learn how to do it better.”
It all has to be kept in perspective, though.
“We have to understand, we’re at one of the lower levels in all of baseball, and he’s a very young kid, and it’s going to take some time. You can’t expect him to go from 0 to 60 in six seconds. He’s got to take time,” he continued. “Baseball’s a little different than basketball or football I think. It takes a little more maturing and understanding. I kinda think that some of the better athletes are playing baseball. It takes a special person to do this.”
If Florial knows best about his struggles, he knows what he needs to improve on.
“The part I’m working on the most is my hitting,” he explained. “But generally, all of it. I have to keep learning everything. I think I have to improve everything I have. There’s no special area because I have to get better in everything.”
Whether it’s just who he is or he learned it at a place like Captain’s Camp, Florial says his confidence is still good. The potential was always there, and it was evident since he was young. Now, work must be done to capitalize on it.
“I think I still have to learn more than I was last season. My mentality is bigger, and some things I didn’t know the last year, I know now,” he said.
You’d be hard pressed to find a player in Pulaski that Tony Franklin doesn’t like, but with Florial, there’s obviously something special.
“I’ve seen enough young baseball players, I should know what it takes to become better. I should know the strengths and weaknesses that they have,” said Franklin. “But yeah, he’s made strides beyond belief and he’s going to continue to get better.
"It’s not always the prettiest picture out there, but that’s the ups and downs of being a young baseball player, you’re going to suffer some setbacks from time to time, you’re going to have a lot of inconsistencies. You’re going to have a lot of great days as well, and when you see that you say, ‘boy, he’s going to be pretty good’. Those are things we look forward to seeing.
“Again, like I’ve said, who’s to say he doesn’t play in the big leagues next year if he puts it together, because he certainly has enough of the tools to do so.”
It is unlikely you will see Florial called up to the Bronx anytime soon -- in fact, he was just called up to low-A Charleston on Thursday to replace the injured Alexander Palma on the RiverDogs' roster -- but Franklin’s point is that one bad season in the lower levels isn’t an indication of future performance. If you’re a believer in tools over production at this stage of a player’s career, you have little reason to worry. Just ask Franklin.
“Yeah, I like everything that ‘Flo’ does and he certainly has the ingredients to play in Major League baseball, it’s a matter of how soon he’s going to be able to put it all together,” he concluded. “But the tools are certainly there.
“It’s a good start, I’d say.”