Can the Yankees expect central field help to come from within the organization?

Heading into 2021, the Yankees had what appeared to be significant depth with three viable major league options in centerfield. Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman had all shown their ability to play the position in recent years and, in theory, would cover each other up when needed. That depth quickly evaporated when Tauchman was traded, Hicks made his way to the injured list and Brett Gardner was forced to quit his role as fourth outfielder for regular playing time. The Yankees were in the bottom half of the American League in center-field production and will need to seriously assess position to move forward, even with Hicks’ expected return from injury in 2022.

By the time it was all said and done, in 2021, the Yankees saw 10 different players pick up reps in centerfield as they tried to negotiate the season which was surrounded by COVID fears and numerous injuries. Brett Gardner was the league’s oldest everyday center last season and was six years older than the next closest player to register 100 games for the AL.

It’s clear the Yankees need to consider finding the center of the future. In the minor leagues, the team has a number of prospects at the center of their top 30 roster, including Jasson Dominguez and several closer MLB prospects who could be added to the 40-man roster early in this offseason. .

Everson Pereira was one of the top prospects in the 2017 international free agent class. The Venezuelan outfielder showed solid batting skills and began to develop his power once he got into the Yankees organization. After aggressively assigning Pereira in his first two seasons in professional ball, the Yankees have taken a slow approach with him this year and it has paid off.

Pereira didn’t start his season until late June – when the Florida Complex League kicked off – but it only took him three impressive games to secure a promotion to Low-A Tampa. His impressive debut continued not only in Low-A, but also carried with him to High-A Hudson Valley. Throughout the season, Pereira has smashed 20 homers in just 188 batting appearances, finishing with a .303 / .398 / .686 line across three levels.

This will be Pereira’s first year as a Rule-5 eligible, but he has positioned himself to either start the season with Double-A Somerset, or at least reach that level relatively quickly at the start of the 2022 campaign. Has plenty to be excited about with Pereira, but he will start 2022 at several major league levels. The Yankees will need to protect him in order to capitalize on his talent later, but they also need to balance their roster with the ability to contribute in the coming year.

Brandon Lockridge was a level above Pereira for much of the season and overcame an early season injury to put on a solid year once he reached Double-A level. A fifth-round pick by the Yankees in 2018, Lockridge is known to have one of the best speeds in the Yankees’ system, but he’s tapped into more power this year by hitting 10 homers in 43 games at the Double-A level. Lockridge hit .328 / .382 .557 at Double-A with 13 goals stolen in 14 attempts. He’s likely signed up for the Triple-A next season and will need to be protected during the rule-5 draft as he’s an exciting prospect with solid tools.

Places on the list will be tight for the Yankees ahead of the offseason. Gardner and Hicks both have deals for next year and another of the Yankees’ top prospects Estevan Florial reached the big leagues and performed well at the big league level last year. It’s easy to see why fans who have only seen Florial play at the major league level are calling for him to play a bigger role in the squad, as he produced well when called up. But in a larger sample size, Florial struggled in Double-A and Triple-A – he only posted an OPS of 0.741 at both levels. He will have another year of minor-league options that will give the Yankees the flexibility to move him up and down this coming year, but it’s not clear if he’s a long-term response at center field for the team.

Many of the best teams in Yankee history have been anchored by strong center fielder play. It’s no surprise that the Yankees’ below-par production in midfield has often been cited as a major cause of their struggles. Over the next few months, the team will need to balance their growing prospects with their immediate needs for the season ahead.

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