How IKF fared in his first game in center field

March 17th, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. -- There’s an old adage in baseball that goes something like this: If you’re playing in the field, and you’re even the slightest bit vulnerable, the ball will find you.

On Friday, , trying his hand (and brand new glove) at center field for the first time, proved why baseball clichés are, by definition, repetitive and overused -- because they’re mostly true.

The ball found Kiner-Falefa, over and over (and over) again, during the Yankees’ 8-7 loss to the Tigers. And the party got started right away, as the first two plays in the bottom of the first were flyouts to center. By the time the second inning was over, Kiner-Falefa had recorded four outs on fly balls hit to him.

There were no mishaps, though. Little happened that would be considered out of the ordinary, and Kiner-Falefa gave himself a passing grade, though he did point out that he threw to the wrong base once. He also was relieved to get this one out of the way.

“I was a little nervous going into it, just because it was a new position,” he said. “But it was a lot of fun. It was just a matter of relaxing.”

The Yankees are giving Kiner-Falefa a look in center hoping to find playing time for him somewhere besides shortstop -- a position that will more likely be filled by one of the Yankees’ top prospects. The competition is technically between No. 3 prospect Oswald Peraza, No. 1 prospect Anthony Volpe and Kiner-Falefa, and manager Aaron Boone has not yet announced a decision.

But with Spring Training winding down and Opening Day now less than two weeks away, decisions are coming. Kiner-Falefa’s versatility to move around the field -- he’s been a catcher and third baseman in his career, in addition to shortstop -- might give him more opportunities to play.

Friday was his first big test as an outfielder, and comparatively speaking, it started off much better than his first attempt at it a couple of days earlier, during Yankees workouts in Tampa, Fla.

“The fans were out there, on Field 2. I dropped my first two balls,” Kiner-Falefa recalled, chuckling. “I was like, ‘I thought it was going to be a cakewalk.’

“But I think it was good because it prepared me for today. It was [a] tough couple of days of practice, but the game [Friday] was a lot slower than I thought. I was really happy."

Conditions might have been slightly better in this game than on the backfields in Tampa, but there were still challenges. The sun was bright. The winds were high. Homers were flying. And the game was moving quickly, even with all of the scoring.

And Kiner-Falefa was playing with an outfielder’s glove that was still not properly broken in. That he still performed well could be taken as an encouraging sign for the future, as the catcher/infielder/outfielder starts to get even more familiar with the position.

“He got a lot of action, mostly basic attempts,” Boone said. “It was good to see him get acclimated out there, get one under his belt. Good start.”

Kiner-Falefa pointed to the third inning as his only real flub of the day, blaming himself for not taking charge of a Colt Keith fly ball that ended up falling between Volpe and left fielder Aaron Hicks. Kiner-Falefa said he misread the card fielders carry for positioning purposes, and he ended up with the wrong alignment.

“That was probably my ball,” he said. “I lined up on the wrong side. That can’t happen in a real game. That’s where I need to get better. I felt bad for Hicksie, that was supposed to be my ball.”

Assuming this all works out, Kiner-Falefa envisions receiving available playing time in center when the Yankees play at home. The expansive left field at Yankee Stadium probably eliminates him from the mix, but he does think he could have a chance to see some time there at select road ballparks.

“Maybe if it’s a situation like in Houston, they’d put me in left,” he said.

Kiner-Falefa simply wants to be part of a winning formula, and his experience and fearlessness moving around the field indicate the center-field experiment could work.

“Since he’s got here, he just wants to win and win in pinstripes,” Boone said. “It’s important to him. He’s worked really hard at his game. He’s a really good teammate. I think moving around some is something that will serve us well, and I think he’s cut out for it."