Pioneer notes: Yerzy proving he's worthy

Arizona's second-round pick working hard behind the plate for Osprey

The 52nd pick overall in last month's Draft, Andy Yerzy is hitting .265 over his first 34 games as a pro. (Judy Ellis)

By Fritz Neighbor / Special to MiLB.com | July 21, 2016 10:00 AM

One day after "America's birthday," while the Missoula Osprey were on the road in Great Falls, Canadian catcher Andy Yerzy turned 18. Just about nobody noticed.

"No cake, no nothing," Yerzy said.

Osprey radio man Tyler Geivett got the assist for alerting the coaching staff and players later that July 5th day, but for Yerzy it was no big deal. The Toronto native had bigger things in mind, such as his first professional at-bat in the Pioneer League.

"The Canadian Junior National Team does a great job getting us exposed to top competition," said Yerzy, who went 3-for-4 for Missoula in a 7-3 win over Great Falls on July 6. "I've been playing against Minor Leaguers since I was 15."

As July has worn on, his batting average has slipped from .400 to .265, but Yerzy -- a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder who was Arizona's second-round pick last month -- is finding his way.

Exhibit A is a spate of seven passed balls in his first few games. Missoula manager Joe Mather put Yerzy behind the plate on July 18-19, and while the Osprey faltered, their catcher shored things up with no mishandled pitches.

That contrasts with an 11-1 loss to Great Falls on July 9 in which Yerzy had two passed balls and chased down three wild pitches. It was a rough home debut, and defensive concerns may have kept him from going higher than the 52nd pick overall.

"Second game behind the plate, he did a nice job," noted Mather. "He handles the staff pretty well. He hadn't caught in two months, either. There were issues -- he was trying to find the strike zone for his pitchers.

"I think he did about as good as he could."

Yerzy made no excuses to Mather.

"I asked him, 'How'd you feel?' And he was like, 'Just OK,'" said Mather. "I think he felt like he could have done a better job. I think he's the type of kid who knows already, but will ask: How can I do that better?"

It's a good situation for Yerzy, who is playing for a manager who was drafted at age 18 (Mather was a third-round pick by St. Louis in 2001) and spent four seasons in the big leagues.

"I fully expected to come out and compete and do well," said Mather, who guided the Osprey to the 2015 Pioneer League championship. "And I think that's how he's treating it as well. I was ready to go. I didn't want to go to college; I wanted to play professional ball. Fortunately I was drafted high enough that I could justify it to my mom."

For Yerzy, this is another step on a lifelong dream.

"I always felt I was enough of a quality player to go that high," he said of his Draft status. "But ultimately it wasn't going to be up to me. I had to perform to show the evaluators I was worthy.

"I wouldn't really say it was a surprise, but it was definitely a nice showing -- that all my hard work paid off. It's pretty surreal that I accomplished a dream that I've had since I was 5."

Yerzy gives Mather an embarrassment of riches: Both he and eighth-round pick Ryan January (.303 batting average) are left-handed hitters; a third catcher, Jose Herrera, is a switch-hitter who is batting .311 as a DH while an arm issue keeps him from behind the dish.

Yerzy was drafted too high not to get a long look, and a rough start is understandable -- which brings us back to July 9.

"I only saw half the game," said Mather, who was ejected in the fifth inning that night. "But I have to imagine this is the most consistent velocity and sharpest stuff he's seen. So it's going to take a little bit of time to get it, but like our shortstop [Jasrado Chisholm], it's going to come quickly."

Yerzy was born and raised outside Toronto, the son of a Montreal Expos-loving father who was Polish and a mother of Chinese descent. He had a batting cage in his backyard at 10 years old; he's since spent a lot of time globetrotting while pursuing his dream.

"This May, in the Dominican Republic, we played 10 games in 12 days against Dominican Summer League teams," he said. He hit .326 with an OPS over 1.000 on the trip. "People think [Canada] is a hockey nation: It isn't. People play baseball."

And Yerzy can play. Currently he's chasing his first professional extra-base hit, working through the language barrier with Latin-American pitchers and adjusting to the tight and tough low pitches. And he's loving it.

"It's a blessing every day," he said. "To be able to say you're a professional baseball player: Your job is to play baseball."

In brief

Chukars rebound: While the Osprey have lost six of seven, the lone win was a doozy. Missoula edged Idaho Falls, 12-11, on the road behind two homers and five RBIs from Tanner Hill. They were his first two professional homers. The Osprey secured the win when center fielder Billy Endris threw out the Chukars' Manny Olloque for the next-to-last out. Then on Tuesday, Idaho Falls pushed past Missoula, 6-5, behind back-to-back eighth-inning homers from Meibrys Viloria and David Edwards. Viloria continues to put up ridiculous stats: He's hitting .472 and leads the league in RBIs (31), doubles (14) and OPS (1.389). Viloria's five homers tie him for fifth in the circuit.

Ponies push: The Billings Mustangs opened up a 2 1/2-game lead in the Pioneer League's Northern Division despite no player having more than two homers. The lack of power has been made up partly by center fielder Jose Siri, whose .367 average includes a cycle for Billings in June. There's also pitching: Second-year pro Antonio Santillan, a 19-year-old out of Fort Worth, Texas, has a league-high 42 strikeouts while going 1-0 in seven starts; reliever Zac Correll has picked up three wins in relief for the Ponies.

Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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