Marlins’ LF Christian Yelich crushes a 2-0 offering from Phillies’ SP Vince Velasquez fastball 468 feet into the upper deck. (Source: MLB Media, May-6-2016, Marlins Park)
To quote the 1997 hit single off of Will Smith’s Big Willie Style “We’re going to Miami”; where 24 year-old left fielder Christian Yelich has become an absolute force at the plate for the 23-21 Miami Marlins (entering play on May 24).
The wealth of talented young players in MLB today has never been rivaled; we are on the cusp of witnessing greatness in the likes of: Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. You will be absolutely shocked if you look at a list of the current MLB stars aged 26 and younger, the sheer number of players performing at an all-star level at such a young age is staggering.
While we are all familiar with the Noah Syndergaard and Nolan Arenado’s of the league, in this multi-part series we will explore some of the budding MLB stars of tomorrow, that we may not necessarily know today. Our first installment began in Atlanta with the Braves’ 23 year-old Centerfielder, the ultra-athletic Mallex Smith. Next we shifted our focus to Detroit, where 24 year-old third baseman (3B) Nick Castellanos is in the midst of breakthrough season; appearing as an early AL MVP candidate for the Tigers.
Left Fielder (LF)
Bats: Left / Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 3″ / Weight: 195 lbs.
DOB: December 5th, 1991 (24 years old)
Drafted 23rd Overall in 2010 MLB Draft
Path to the Majors
Christian Yelich made his MLB debut, at the age of 21, during the 2013 season for the Miami Marlins. A 1st Round pick by the organization in 2010, Yelich raked his way through the minors and was a highly touted prospect as he rose through the ranks to the big leagues. Noted MiLB and prospect analyst Keith Law went on record in 2013, describing Yelich’s swing as the “prettiest swing in the minor leagues” and had Yelich ranked as the #6 overall prospect in baseball entering the 2013 season.. Entering the 2013 MLB season, Yelich was ranked #15 overall prospect in MiLB by Baseball America and the top prospect in the Marlins’ system not named Jose Fernandez.
Early MLB Campaign Results
Yelich adapted to MLB pitching, featured an elite approach at the plate, and was able to hit for average from the moment he was called up to the big leagues. In 273 plate appearances (“PA”) after being called during the 2013 season Yelich hit a very respectable .288 and added 10 stolen bases. Yelich has always been well-above average as a defensive outfielder, winning a Gold Glove in his first full MLB season (2014). The major hole in Yelich’s game has always been the lack of hitting for power, which is understandable given his slender physique.
(Source: Baseball Reference)
Breakout Start to 2016 Season
Although Yelich’s MLB track record entering the 2016 season was quite incredible (for a player just 24 years of age), it is clear Yelich has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Through only 42 games of the 2016 season, Yelich has emerged as a force in the Marlins’ line-up; hitting .320 and slugging an impressive .524, displaying flashes of power that we have yet to see from him up until this point.
Interestingly enough, Yelich has experienced success this year hitting against all types of pitches and ranking among the league leader in exit velocity against both (94.5 mph)¹ fastball and (95 mph)¹ off-speed pitches. Yelich leads the Marlins in average exit velocity this year, ahead of mega-slugger Giancarlo Stanton, a sign that Yelich is finally developing into more of a long-ball threat at the plate.
Another phenomenal sign of Yelich’s development has been his ability to remain patient with his approach at the plate and to hit the ball to all fields. As Yelich becomes stronger and continues to perfect his craft, we will see his power to the opposite field only become more prevalent and pitchers will need to make adjustments likewise. Newly-minted hitting coach for the Marlins, the legendary slugger Barry Bonds, will continue to help Yelich build upon his recent success at the plate.
Outlook & MLB Comparisons
Christian Yelich has a bright future in front of him, it would not be a stretch to envision Yelich winning several more Gold Gloves while also competing for batting titles. Yelich’s raw tools are finally starting to break through and there is no doubt in my mind that Yelich will be in the discussion for the best left fielder in MLB by the start of the 2017 season.
Yelich reminds me of sweet-swinging Cleveland Indians’ left fielder Michael Brantley in the sense that both came into the league with a polished swing and approach at the plate; however, it took several years for their power to emerge at the MLB level.
MLB Comparisons: Michael Brantley
Sources & Footnotes
¹ Exit Velocity refers to the speed at which the ball comes off of the hitters’ bat. In this case when Yelich hits fastballs they come off his bat at an average of 94.5 mph and 95 mph for off-speed pitches, among the league leaders for both.