IKF has new initials in his future: CF

March 15th, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- stood alone in center field at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday afternoon, tracking batting-practice drives from a hitting group that included and . The prospective utility player appeared capable, and the Yankees intend to test him in game situations by week’s end.

In perhaps their clearest indication yet that Kiner-Falefa will not be the Bombers’ starting shortstop, manager Aaron Boone said he plans to start him in center field this weekend. Kiner-Falefa has been working with instructor Nick Swisher in the outfield as the club is leaning toward shifting Kiner-Falefa into a utility assignment.

“I think it’s just good to add some tools,” Kiner-Falefa said on Wednesday. “Shortstop is obviously the second-hardest position on the field after being a catcher, so adding center field to my resume a little bit is good; just being able to play there in a pinch if something happens and the team needs me.”

Kiner-Falefa said that he expects to make his first appearance in center field on Friday, when the Yankees visit the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. Boone said that he believes Kiner-Falefa’s athleticism will allow him to transition to a utility role “really, really well.”

“He’s worked in the outfield the last couple of days, and I looked at some video of it the other day, just watching how his feet move and stuff,” Boone said. “I think he’d be natural out there -- the ability to move around, his speed and athleticism, his bat-to-ball [skills].”

Kiner-Falefa made 131 starts at shortstop and four at third base last season, when he posted a slash line of .261/.314/.327 and had an 84 OPS+, four homers and 48 RBIs after being acquired from the Twins in a March trade.

Having signed a one-year, $6 million contract this past offseason, Kiner-Falefa (who turns 28 this month) reported to camp competing with prospects and for the starting nod at shortstop. Boone said that no decision has been made.

“He’s still in the running out there at short,” Boone said. “He’s still going to get work out there at short, but I do feel like he could thrive in a lot of different roles.”

Said Kiner-Falefa: “It’s really not up to me. There’s a lot of stuff that could happen before Opening Day. That’s kind of out of my control.”

The experiment comes as the Yankees look to weather the loss of center fielder , who is expected to return from a left oblique strain in late April.

Volpe has been the talk of camp. The organization’s top prospect and baseball’s No. 5 prospect overall, according to MLB Pipeline, Volpe is batting a robust .321 (9-for-28) with two homers.

Boone said that he considers Volpe “definitely in the mix” to make the roster.

“He’s performed,” Boone said. “We knew coming in that he was going to be a big story of camp. He’s come in with the expectations and a lot of eyeballs on him, and he’s performed.”

Peraza has put forth a more modest performance offensively, though he homered on Tuesday night in the Yankees' 10-3 victory over the Blue Jays and has impressed Boone with his defense. Peraza, the Yanks’ No. 3 prospect, performed capably in the Majors last September and started a postseason game at shortstop.

“He’s been really good in the field, hasn’t gotten a lot of results at the plate,” Boone said. “But again, we know what he’s capable of. I think he’s looked the part out there at shortstop.”

Kiner-Falefa has been able to adapt to new positions before. As a Rangers Minor Leaguer, Kiner-Falefa took on catching assignments to speed his progression toward the Majors, making his big league debut in 2018. Kiner-Falefa left the shin guards behind for good in 2020, when he won the American League’s Gold Glove at third base.

“The more versatility, the better, especially now the way the game is going,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I think it’s a win-win.”