Q&A: Tools aside, Yelich just plays

Marlins top prospect overcomes injuries in stellar season

Christian Yelich posted a .918 OPS in 107 games last season. (Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)

By Robert Emrich / Special to MLB.com | January 17, 2013 5:23 PM

If you expected Christian Yelich to take a step back in 2012, you were sorely disappointed.

After a strong debut season in which he won a MiLBY for a postseason walk-off homer, Yelich got off to an inauspicious start in 2012, landing on the disabled list after being struck by a bat in Spring Training.

The injury, and another trip to the disabled list following a concussion, merely slowed the 21-year-old outfielder. Yelich batted .329 with 46 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases, winning Florida State League Player of the Year and Marlins' Minor League Player of the Year honors.

Getting ready to make his Double-A debut, Miami's top prospect talked with MiLB.com about his successful sophomore season and what's in store for 2013.

MiLB.com: How would you sum up your season?

Christian Yelich: I'd say it was interesting. It kind of started off a little rough by getting hurt with a day left in Spring Training. I got hit in the elbow with a thrown bat, so I started the season on the two-week disabled list. I was able to come back from that, get a strong start to the year, and I got a concussion from sliding into second base. After that, I was able to stay healthy and our team was able to get to the Championship Series, where we came up a little short in Game 5.

MiLB.com: Were you worried to start the year on such a down note?

Yelich: I wasn't worried. Obviously, it's disappointing; you never want to be hurt, especially to start the year, but it's one of those freak accidents that you can't do anything about.

MiLB.com: You were the Topps Florida State League Player of the Year and the Marlins' Minor League Player of the Year. How honored were you by those awards?

Yelich: It's a pretty big honor, especially coming from the Florida State League, which notoriously isn't a hitter-friendly league.

MiLB.com: You're heading to Double-A this year. What do you think you need to do to continue your success?

Yelich: Just continuing to get better, whether that's defensively in center field or left field -- wherever I end up -- and continue to get my repetitions in a professional environment.

MiLB.com: How do you think the transition to the outfield has gone?

Yelich: I think it's gone really well. I think it's a tribute to the player development staff we have with the Marlins. I live close to Tarrik Brock -- he's our outfield coordinator -- I work with him three or four times a week in the offseason. That's the work that goes unnoticed to most people, but he's had a huge part of my smooth transition to the outfield. I definitely wouldn't have done as well as I have without him and all that work he's put in with me.

MiLB.com: You've reached the playoffs each of your two seasons as a pro. What's that experience like?

Yelich: That's a great experience. We won one of the Game 5's, and we lost one of the Game 5's. ... That's an experience that is pretty cool and I've been fortunate to be able to do it the first two years of professional baseball.

MiLB.com: You've played with a lot of the same teammates the first two seasons. Who are some of the ones you room with or hang around with?

Yelich: I've lived with J.T. Realmuto ever since Rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League -- we've hung out together. I think we came into the Marlins organization two or three days apart. We became friends there and we've been fortunate enough to move up to all the levels together.

MiLB.com: As I understand it, he was the one whose bat hit you. That must have been an interesting situation.

Yelich: That was him. It made for a little bit of an awkward night. I guess it wasn't funny at the time, but we still laugh about it now.

MiLB.com: What have you been doing in the offseason?

Yelich: I had to go to the [Arizona] Fall League for a little while. After that, I came back and you have to get right into working out and doing all that stuff. I had a short offseason, kinda just hanging out, resting up a little bit.

MiLB.com: What do you do when you're not getting ready?

Yelich: Hanging out with friends I haven't seen in a while, gone off to college and are back for winter break. Go to the movies, go to the beach. It's still pretty nice out here [in California].

MiLB.com: Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to go to college?

Yelich: A little bit. At the same time, I feel like I made the right decision to not go to college. ... I still go visit my friends in college and get the experience that way. I wonder about it every now and then, but I'm definitely happy with the decision I made.

MiLB.com: If you weren't playing baseball what would you be doing?

Yelich: I was going to go to college undeclared; I really didn't know. If I wasn't playing baseball -- you're going to think this is crazy -- I actually wanted to be a U.S. Navy SEAL, and that was before they got all that hype for all the stuff they've been doing in the news. ... Being a part of the best of the best would have been something that was pretty cool.

MiLB.com: You mentioned movies. We're in the middle of Oscar season -- with the Awards coming up, any thoughts on that?

Yelich: I actually just saw Zero Dark Thirty and I liked it, and I wouldn't be surprised if that won some awards.

MiLB.com: Given the season you had and your standing as the Marlins' top prospect, how do you deal with the pressure and hype?

Yelich: It kind of just comes with the territory. You just learn to deal with it. It's something that's never gotten to me. I think it's because I have higher expectations of myself than others put on me. I think it goes back to my personality. My attitude is kind of laid-back: obviously, you want to succeed, you just don't let it get it to you.

MiLB.com: What's one aspect of your game you'd like to improve?

Yelich: I'd like to keep getting better defensively, but you always want to get better at all aspects of your game. If I had to choose one, I'd say defensively. I've worked a lot on my arm. I've been able to make the transition to center.

MiLB.com: You've got the high average, high on-base percentage, the home runs, the stolen bases. Do you consider yourself a five-tool player?

Yelich: That word's thrown around a lot. Everyone likes to categorize people as five-tool players, four-tool players or whatever. I just like to try and be a complete player and go out every night and give my team a chance to win. Whether you steal a bag, get on base or whatever, I think by the time a 140-game season is over, you look up my numbers and they are what they are.

MiLB.com: What is your gameday routine like?

Yelich: I always get to the field pretty early -- I always eat lunch at the field, get something and bring it there. I work in the cages, whether it's tee or flips. Get your batting practice, come in, eat your pregame meal, which normally for me is a peanut butter sandwich. I'm not real superstitious; I don't have any pregame routines.

MiLB.com: You have a peanut butter sandwich before every game?

Yeah. Minor Leagues, not much to choose from -- most of the time it's a peanut butter sandwich or turkey or whatever you can find.

MiLB.com: A sophomore slump is not uncommon. How did you avoid it?

Yelich: I didn't go out there, thinking, "I got to do this like the year before." I think you start going out there worrying about that stuff, worrying about everything outside of baseball, it's going to affect you in a negative way. I kind of went into it, "Hey, I'm going to approach every at-bat the same way," and if you do it that way, by the time you look up, by the time you've played a full season, your talent will shine through.

MiLB.com: How fun was it to play in the Futures Game?

Yelich: That was an unbelievable experience. I loved every second of it. I think it was sold-out crowds, playing with all the best prospects in the game on your team and against them. It was a really cool game and something I was really glad I was able to be a part of.


Robert Emrich is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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