Prospect of the Day: Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
Seldom does a first-round draft pick become a positive surprise, but it happens occasionally. Case in point: Miami Marlins outfield prospect Christian Yelich. Two year ago he was a promising high school first baseman, but now he's one of the best center field prospects in baseball.
Yelich was a high school star in Westlake Village, California, showing a sound swing and excellent defensive ability at first base. Scouts had mixed opinions about his future power development, and comparisons ranged the gamut from Will Clark to Wally Joyner to James Loney. The Marlins drafted him in the first round in 2010, 23rd overall, signing him away from college at the University of Miami for $1,700,000. His pro debut was short but impressive: .362/.400/.468 in 12 games split between the Gulf Coast Rookie League and Greensboro in the South Atlantic League.
Returning to Greensboro for 2011, Yelich posted an excellent season, hitting .312/.388/.484 with 32 doubles, 15 homers, 55 walks, and 102 strikeouts in 461 at-bats. Most impressively, he stole 32 bases in 37 attempts. Speed wasn't expected to be a huge part of his game, so this was a surprise. He also adapted to a new position, holding his own in left field and even seeing some action in center.
Yelich's campaign earned him a promotion to High-A Jupiter in the Florida State League for 2012, and the results are very positive thus far: .283/.368/.552 with seven homers and nine doubles, 17 walks and 35 strikeouts in 127 at-bats. His power production is increasing, and he continues to impress on the bases, with nine steals in 11 attempts. He's also moved to center field full-time this season.
Yelich is a 6-4, 189-pound left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, born December 5, 1991. A good athlete, he has slightly above average speed and is extremely adept at using it on the bases. His arm is average and he's still learning the outfield, but he's performed well in center considering his lack of experience. With the bat, he's got a decent feel for the strike zone and is tapping into his natural power with greater efficiency. Although he isn't likely to develop into an overwhelming home run masher, Yelich should hit for average, get on base at a good clip, and produce above-average power. His strikeout rate has been creeping upward as he ascends the ladder, but his power output is increasing as well, and he's still drawing walks at a substantial clip.
Overall, Yelich has turned out to be a somewhat different player than scouts originally expected. Although his bat has developed along anticipated lines, his baserunning ability and defensive value have been better than expected.