In late July of 2013 the Marlins promoted Christian Yelich, who many considered to be their top hitting prospect, to the big leagues. Yelich was a first round pick in the 2010 amateur draft, and after 4 minor league seasons between rookie ball and AA the Marlins had seen enough to believe the 21 year old’s “prettiest swing in the minors” (according to Keith Law) could hold his own in the majors.
We only have about 60 games to go by, but on the surface Yelich did have a fairly productive first run. He was by no means a complete fantasy player, but he definitely offered pockets of helpful contributions in batting average, runs, and stolen bases.
|2013 Full Season Pace||162||89||10||42||26||.288|
Yelich put together a fairly productive rookie campaign, especially chipping in on BA, R, and SB.
On the surface, these statistics seems to indicate Yelich is on his way to joining the early 20’s round table of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado. However, if we dig a bit deeper it becomes fairly evident that Yelich has some serious work to do in 2014 if he is to improve, or even meet, his aforementioned 2013 full season pace.
Yelich’s peripheral numbers do not necessarily support a repeat performance…get the ball of the ground tall man!
There are several important pieces of data here that should be taken into account when evaluating Yelich’s 2012 performance, but I would like to focus on three in particular; his K%, BABIP, and GB%.
To put his rates into perspective, among qualified hitters last year his K% would have been the 18th worst, his BABIP would rank 4th highest, and his GB% would have been the highest in the league. In all three cases, a high ranking isn’t good.
I know he is close to as green as a major league player can be so I am not freaking out, but when you couple these three measures together it makes it nearly impossible to believe how he was able to hit .288 and perhaps more importantly get on base at a .370 clip.
I added OBP to the mix because when you consider the specific areas where Yelich helped out in fantasy (R, SB, BA), those are all highly dependent on putting the ball in play and getting on base. His 11.1 BB% as a rookie is definitely a nice sign, but it’s not enough to make up if his batting average regresses in 2014.
It’s not rocket science — if you aren’t on base you can’t score runs nor can you steal bases. Until Yelich fills out his tall frame and adds some pop — which should happen over the next few seasons — a regression in those categories won’t leave much fantasy meat on the bone.
One other issue I have to point out with Yelich was his major league lefty/righty splits. I was hesitant to do so for two reasons.
First, in the minor leagues he was certainly better against right handed pitchers (.340 BA, .553 SLG), but he also fared well versus left handed pitching (.313 BA, .464 SLG).
Second, the sample size is so small with only 91 AB vs. lefties that we probably do not have enough data to claim this to be an issue, yet. Well, I said I would give you the numbers so here they are, but for now it’s probably best to take this information with a grain of salt.
The sample size is small, but there is some evidence that Yelich will have trouble hitting left handed pitchers in the majors.
At A Glance
- Strengths: SB, BB, 3B
- Neutral: R, HR, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, BB, 2B
- Weaknesses: RBI, K
Players With Similar Fantasy Value
2014 Fantasy Baseball Projection
2014 Projection: 615 PA, .270 BA, 68 R, 17 HR, 62 RBI, 15 SB
Overall Rank: 133 | OF Rank: 43
His already good eye at the plate will help him provide some stability while he figures everything else out on the way.
The good news on all fronts called out above is Yelich has plenty of time to improve. As an elite slugger in the minor leagues we owe him at least a season or two to get comfortable and adjust to major league pitching don’t we? In 2012, he led the Class A Florida State League in slugging and finished second in BA and OBP.
Even last year, zone data from Brooksbaseball.net illustrates that Yelich has a “very good eye” against fastballs and breaking pitches and an “exceptionally good eye” against off-speed stuff. So he clearly knows when to swing and when not to, which for many young players is the most difficult skill to master.
In another year or two if he still hasn’t made positive progress on the issues we’ve addressed then I will start to be worried. This takes time people!
2015 and Beyond
Going back to how this post started…Yelich has “one of the prettiest swings in the
minors majors,” and there’s a lot to be optimistic about. At the moment, this 22-year-old is a lanky 6’4 and 195 lbs. He definitely needs to hit the weight room and fill out that frame, but there’s some exciting upside to be had here.
His already good eye at the plate will help him provide some stability while he figures everything else out on the way. I definitely see him posting plenty of .350+ OBP seasons even if he doesn’t cut down on his strikeouts. This is good news for his prospective run and stolen base totals for the foreseeable future (note: Yelich is a proficient base stealer – 78% success rate in the minors, and no caught stealing in 10 attempts in the majors).
I am not sure why, but while writing this I listened to Phish, it just felt like one of those days.