Last Updated on September 19, 2023 at 7:24 am by John Allen
In September, Isiah Kiner-Falefa‘s on-field appearances have been quite restricted, with only 17 at-bats and participation in just six games, of which he started four. It’s evident that the Yankees’ decision-makers prioritize assessing their budding talents over the utility man. However, Kiner-Falefa has gracefully embraced this shift in his role, willingly stepping into the position of a mentor for the emerging young stars. During his new role, he is impressed by the commitment and work ethic of Jasson Dominguez.
Before Jasson Dominguez’s remarkable September call-up was cut short due to a serious throwing elbow injury, he had become the hot topic not only among Yankees fans but also within the clubhouse. Despite the new-found fame and adoration, the 20-year-old Dominican sensation remains dedicated to learn from others. This quality of the Yankees sensation earned the admiration of Kiner-Falefa.
Kiner-Falefa in awe of Jasson Dominguez
During a game at Yankee Stadium, Kiner-Falefa glanced at the team’s lineup card, noticed he wasn’t in the starting lineup once more, and made his way to an empty indoor batting cage. He felt the need to keep taking swings to stay prepared, just in case there were any alterations in the team’s approach for the remainder of the season. The Yankees have been leaning towards giving more playing time to their young talents while veterans like Kiner-Falefa find themselves on the bench during these late-season games where the team’s postseason chances have faded.
While Kiner-Falefa headed to the batting cage for some swings, Jasson Dominguez coincidentally joined him at the same time. He let the rookie have the practice first.
Typically, it’s the younger players who arrive early to put in their practice, but on this occasion, Jasson Dominguez found himself in Manager Aaron Boone’s starting lineup. As a result, Kiner-Falefa decided to let Jasson Dominguez take his swings first and told him he’d return later.
However, Jasson Dominguez insisted on sharing the batting practice session with Kiner-Falefa. It wasn’t just about showing respect to the veteran, who was highly regarded by teammates of all ages; the rookie genuinely wanted to work alongside him.
Jasson Dominguez expressed a desire for Kiner-Falefa to be present and mentioned a desire to learn from him.
What did the rookie learn from IKF
Curious about what insights a versatile, switch-hitting center fielder like Jasson Dominguez could gain from observing Kiner-Falefa, who tends to focus on contact hitting rather than power? The exchange wasn’t limited to batting practice; they also engaged in baseball discussions and shared their knowledge.
Kiner-Falefa mentioned that Jasson Dominguez expressed an interest in observing his pre-game routine and how Major League players prepare for a game in the batting cage.
While Jasson Dominguez attentively observed and inquired, Kiner-Falefa grew increasingly impressed. He had recognized the youngster’s potential as a future MLB star when they trained together during the Yankees’ spring training earlier in the year. Still, he hadn’t had a chance to truly assess Jasson Dominguez’s work ethic and character.
Kiner-Falefa was eager to understand Jasson Dominguez’s commitment to his craft. Did he rely solely on his natural talent? It was evident that Dominguez’s remarkable talent had earned him a $5.1 million signing bonus from the Yankees at the age of 16, but what set him apart and propelled him to the major leagues so rapidly?
Kiner-Falefa, renowned for his mentoring abilities in addition to his versatile on-field performance, found himself learning valuable lessons while witnessing Jasson Dominguez’s receptiveness to guidance.
Kiner-Falefa noted that he found Jasson Dominguez’s eagerness to learn very impressive and thoroughly enjoyed their batting practice and conversation.
Kiner-Falefa is a mentor to young Yankees
He approached the session with the same level of seriousness as Jasson Dominguez. Kiner-Falefa is committed to making a meaningful impact every day, and mentoring young position players has been a significant and fulfilling responsibility for him in September.
In fact, Kiner-Falefa has been fulfilling this role throughout the entire season. While adapting to and excelling in his versatile jack-of-all-trades role, which included learning outfield play on the fly, he established a mentorship akin to a big brother and little brother relationship, notably with Anthony Volpe, despite the 22-year-old rookie shortstop taking over his former position.
Throughout the season, Kiner-Falefa has also dedicated time to working with Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera, two other emerging prospects for the Yankees who may play significant roles in the team’s future in 2024 and beyond.
And for a brief period, he had the opportunity to mentor Dominguez as well.
Kiner-Falefa shared that he believes it’s simply a part of his job to help out when needed. He mentioned that every day presents an opportunity to contribute to the team and the organization, even when not playing regularly. He also acknowledged that it was surprising to him when a prospect like Jasson Dominguez asked for assistance, considering the rookie’s obvious talent and promising future based on the few games he played.
Kiner-Falefa is hopeful that he and Jasson Dominguez will be teammates again next season, although the likelihood of that happening is uncertain at best. IKF is set to become a free agent in the upcoming offseason and is expected to generate significant interest due to his strong contact hitting, exceptional defensive skills across various positions, particularly at third base, and his reputation as a valuable team player.
The Yankees would prefer to retain Kiner-Falefa, but the question remains whether they are willing to meet his expected market value, which is likely to be substantial. Scouts have praised his abilities both at the plate and in the field, as well as his overall character.
In Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Pirates, Kiner-Falefa entered the game as a late substitution. However, he did not start for the fifth consecutive game and has been absent from the starting lineup in 12 of the Yankees’ last 15 games.
Kiner-Falefa expressed his commitment to staying prepared for his playing opportunities and assisting young players to the best of his ability. He emphasized the importance of being there for them, drawing from his own experiences as a rookie when veterans supported him in similar ways. According to him, this is a fundamental aspect of the game, and it underscores the role of veterans on the team.
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