Yankees’ Isiah Kiner-Falefa takes on outfield reps as starting 2022 shortstop heads toward 2023 utility role

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Isiah Kiner-Falefa might have been the New York Yankees’ key shortstop last season, making 131 starts overall, but it seems like he could take on a new role as a utility guy in the new year. The Yankees haven’t ruled out using Kiner-Falefa as a starting shortstop; What they’ve been doing is experimenting with him in other positions, soon to include outfield.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters (including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch) on Tuesday that Kiner-Falefa has been working with former big league outfielder Nick Swisher to learn the nuances of playing on grass. Kiner-Falefa will even appear in midfield in spring training before the week is up. Boone added that he thinks Kiner-Falefa could be a “natural” out there.

Kiner-Falefa has never played outfield in the majors. He’s not a complete freshman, however, having appeared in 10 outfield games as a minor league player. His last appearance in midfield was in 2017, which explains why the Yankees give him crash-course training before he’s tasked with an in-game task.

Kiner-Falefa had a disappointing first season in the Bronx after being traded to the Yankees almost exactly a year ago. He hit .261/.314/.327 (84 OPS+) with four home runs and 22 stolen bases. Some public defense metrics were high on his glove work; Baseball-Reference, for example, estimated he contributed three wins over the reserve. Still, the Yankees left Kiner-Falefa as their daily shortstop in the postseason, and it seems more than likely they’ll head into the season with youngster Oswald Peraza as their regular.

Kiner-Falefa, in turn, would transition into a utility role where he would ping-pong for the diamond at Boone’s discretion. At the very least, it can’t hurt the Yankees to have another player with some outfield experience — especially since beginning outfielder Harrison Bader is expected to miss the start of the season with a strained slash. In just a few days, Kiner-Falefa will have a chance to prove he’s ready.

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