Sophomore year finds Yelich coming into his own
Outfielder, once a highly-ranked prospect, making case to be NL Player of the Month
NEW YORK -- A year ago, Jose Fernandez bypassed the upper Minor League levels, became an All-Star at age 20 and won National League Rookie of the Year honors in convincing fashion.
Fernandez gained fame with his immense talent, outgoing attitude and inspiring personal story of defecting from Cuba at age 15 and becoming an MLB superstar five years later.
As much attention as the hard-throwing right-hander garnered, the now 21-year-old wasn't the only prize rookie the Marlins featured in 2013.
With much fanfare, Christian Yelich was called up from Double-A Jacksonville in late July, and the left-handed-hitting outfielder from Thousand Oaks, Calif., made steady progress on a team that ended up losing 100 games.
Fernandez was certainly the feel-good story of the disappointing '13 Miami team, but Yelich was much more than just the "other guy."
The 22-year-old outfielder is showing now why he, too, was once ranked among the game's top prospects.
Now in his first full big league season, Yelich is illustrating why many in the organization, as well as opposing scouts, feel he will eventually become an All-Star as well as a contender to win a batting title.
At every level, Yelich has posted strong numbers. He's doing so currently, carrying a 17-game hitting streak into Friday's series opener against the Mets at Citi Field.
"I think going into the season, we knew he would be fine, because he has such a great approach, and he doesn't panic," Miami manager Mike Redmond said. "For a young kid to have the type of approach that he does is amazing."
During the streak, he's 26-for-71 (.366) with four doubles, one triple, four RBIs, 13 runs scored and a .438 on-base percentage.
Not much has gone right for the Marlins over the past few seasons. The organization has languished in last place in the NL East for three straight years.
Despite the struggles at the big league level, what the club has done right of late is to make impact-caliber first-round Draft selections.
Yelich was the organization's No. 1 choice in 2010, and Fernandez followed in 2011.
Heading into 2013, MLB.com ranked Fernandez as the seventh-best prospect in the game, and Yelich was slotted at 13.
Based on the first few weeks of the season, Yelich is making a case to be the NL Player of the Month. His 17-game hitting streak is the longest of his young career, and it has improved his numbers to some of the best in the NL.
For the season, he's hitting .329 with a .394 on-base percentage.
Still, when it comes to top monthly honors, Yelich may be overlooked by his own teammate. Giancarlo Stanton has been a force with six homers and an MLB-leading 27 RBIs, entering Thursday.
It's not surprising that Yelich's production has transferred to the Majors, because he was a .313 hitter with a .387 on-base percentage in 302 Minor League games.
But it took a few games for him to warm up this season. He started off 2-for-14, and early on, he sat out against some tough lefties.
"It probably took him a little time to get going," Redmond said. "I gave him a couple of games off against some lefties. I think that kind of relaxed him."
Each day, Yelich is gaining additional experience. The fact that he appeared in 62 big league games last year, and batted .288 in 240 at-bats has given him a better indication of what to expect his sophomore year.
"Obviously, with what happened last year, I got that experience," Yelich said. "It helped more with facing pitchers and understanding what stuff they have and what they're trying to do to you."
In the NL East, Yelich is facing some of the best starters in the game. Washington features Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and Atlanta has Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, while the Phillies have Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The Mets have Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler,
Last year in Spring Training, Yelich homered off Mets ace Matt Harvey, who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Seeing pitchers for the first time is an adjustment for all hitters.
"When you go up against a guy like Strasburg, Zimmermann or Gio, guys like that, and you'd never faced them, those are going to be tough ABs," Yelich said. "The more times you face those guys, they're still tough ABs, but you have a better idea of how to approach that at-bat."