By Chad Jennings
On March 24, Ramon Flores hit a walk-off home run to win a spring training game. This is what Joe Girardi had to say about it:
“He’s a guy that’s definitely on our radar. If something was to happen to one of our outfielders, I think he’d be a pretty strong candidate.”
Well, Flores was still a candidate yesterday, and he’ll be a big leaguer tonight. He was hitting .294/.389/.425 in Triple-A, the Yankees needed a new outfielder, and Flores got the call. Now we’ll find out whether he can go from being on the radar to being in the lineup.
Flores is replacing Slade Heathcott on the roster. Will he replace him as a lineup regular?
“It will be kind of like what I did with Slade,” Girardi said. “We’ll see how the kid does. It could be a platoon situation. There’s a lot of different things we could do. We’ll see how the kid does.”
We’ve seen that good young hitters don’t always thrive when they don’t get much playing time. A part-time role isn’t for everyone, and even veteran hitters often find it difficult to be productive without regular at-bats. Right now, the lowest OPS on the Yankees’ roster doesn’t belong to Didi Gregorius or Stephen Drew.
By a large margin, it’s Jose Pirela who’s hitting just .200/.200/.233 for a team-worst.433 OPS. Based on his Triple-A numbers last season, Pirela should be an obvious possibility to offensively upgrade in the middle of the infield, but in his limited big league opportunity this season, he hasn’t forced Girardi’s hand.
“We’ve talked about it, and he seemed to struggle too,” Girardi said. “We’ve talked about it. … It’s difficult when you’re a young player and you’re used to playing every day, to make that adjustment. It’s hard.”
John Ryan Murphy has also not hit much this season (.222/.286/.361), and the only Yankees with a lower OPS than Garrett Jones are the light-hitting middle infielders. Is that a sign of a weak bench, or simply a bench that hasn’t done much because it hasn’t had many opportunities?
Now, into that mix comes Flores, a 23-year-old who could slide right into Heathcott’s platoon situation with a legitimate chance to sink or swim. If this were a month ago, Chris Young would probably get something close to everyday playing time in center field, but Young’s been pretty bad lately, and he’s been especially bad against right-handed pitchers. Jones could play some left field, but his defense is spotty at best, and he hasn’t hit much.
Platoon playing time for Flores make sense, and it’s the only way to find out if he can truly help this lineup get something going at the bottom of the order.