Name: Christian Yelich
Notable 2011 Stats: .312/.388/.484 with 32 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 102/55 K/BB, and 32-for-37 SB in 122 games with Greensboro (Low-A)
Why He’s This High: As a 19-year-old in full-season ball, this former first-round pick (23rd overall in 2010) displayed a wide set of offensive skills. Thought to be an underpowered first baseman when he was drafted, Yelich ably transitioned to the outfield and showed a solid approach for his age, combined with doubles power (48 XBH, 32 2B) and good speed (32-of-37 SB)
At 6’4″ and just about 200 lbs., Yelich has some room to grow into his body and try to turn more of those doubles into homers. Obviously, he was young for his level, so he has plenty of time to make adjustments as he moves up the ladder.
Clearly, he boasts an advanced knowledge of the strike zone, walking 55 times in 122 games as a 19-year-old. In particular, Yelich smashed right-handed pitchers, hitting .341/.413/.531. His .256/.337/.391 against lefties was also competent, and he probably won’t need to be platooned. A third of his 15 homers came against southpaws as well.
In the outfield, Yelich probably won’t stick in center, but his athleticism gives him a chance at becoming an average or above-average defender in left field.
Why He’s This Low: I have Yelich a bit lower than most, from what I understand, and I believe that’s mainly a function of my skepticism about him coming out of the draft. Certainly, he’s dramatically improved his stock in my eyes, but there are still some questions that need to be answered before I’m comfortable projecting him as a bigtime player.
One thing that surprised a lot of people was how many bases Yelich stole, so he’s now being projected as a power/speed threat. He may end up being one, but there are a ton of players who steal a good number of bases in A-ball and go on to do nothing on the basepaths in the big leagues. He’s not credited with truly plus speed in reports, so it could be that he’s simply taking advantage of raw catchers. I mean, at age 19, Jack Cust stole 15 bases in 89 games. Adam Dunn stole 21 in 93 games. Jim Thome stole 10 in 67 games. It goes without saying that none of them became even average runners in the majors, and while Yelich likely isn’t doomed to baseclogging status like them, we shouldn’t just assume that his steal numbers will translate to higher levels, let alone the big leagues.
Yelich still has some filling out to do, so that could also rob him of some of his speed. Plenty of guys have posted gaudy steal numbers with legitimate plus speed in Low-A only to become squat power guys in the big leagues (Trayvon Robinson, anyone?).
Such a body change would probably give Yelich more over-the-fence power, as I said above, but I see him as more of a power or speed guy (depending on his body) than both. A loss of speed would almost certainly push him out of center field–where he dabbled in 2011–and keep him in left or back at first permanently. His arm is poor, so he can’t play right, and it may have been too weak for him to play center field at higher levels regardless of declining speed.
So, in many ways, I feel like we’re back where we were with Yelich on draft day–he’s a corner guy who needs to show power. Greensboro is one of the friendliest parks at the Low-A level, and he hit .333/.426/.519 there as opposed to .291/.347/.448 away from home, which does nothing to allay the “will he hit enough?” issue.
Conclusions: Yelich had an undeniably impressive season, but it is not quite clear what sort of player he’ll ultimately become. Will he retain his speed? Will he add power? What position is he going to play, and how well?
Yes, this is a very conservative rating on my part, putting him this low on the list, but I’m not going to dismiss his potential–I just want to see what sort of player he is at age 21 first. If he can replicate his 2011 line in Double-A in 2013, let alone 2012, then we’re looking at a borderline All-Star. But, to me, there are still many questions to be answered with Yelich.
Ultimately, the upside here is probably a moderately athletic left fielder who can hit .300 with 20 HR–say, a lefty-swinging Hunter Pence with a bad throwing arm. But, if the power doesn’t come, or his defense forces a slide to first, we’re talking about a Lyle Overbay (if he goes to 1B) or David DeJesus (in LF) type of player, which is worth playing but significantly less valuable.
Time will tell, but if nothing else, Yelich looks to be a steal, not an overdraft, with the 23rd pick in 2010. If all goes well, he could occupy a much higher spot on this list in the coming years.
Previous installments in the Seedlings To Stars 2012 Top 100 Prospects:
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