Q&A: Yastrzemski discusses lineage, career

Orioles' No. 19 prospect led Minors in triples and hit for cycle last year

Mike Yastrzemski batted .288/.346/.490 with 14 homers and 75 RBIs across three levels in 2014. (Mark Olson/MiLB.com)

By Mark Emery / MiLB.com | February 19, 2015 10:00 AM

What's in a name?

A name can get you noticed, maybe even drafted. But a name won't give you a career. A name, by itself, can't hit the ball or run the bases or play defense for you. A name is only a starting point. It may imply a bounty of talent for the game and a keen source of advice a phone call away, but you have to complement those things with hard work and good choices if you want to go anywhere.

Mike Yastrzemski, the Orioles' No. 19 prospect and grandson of Red Sox icon Carl, has set a course for the Major Leagues, and his early Minor League results indicate the destination is within reach. The 2013 14th-round pick earned two promotions in his first full season last year, ending it at Double-A Bowie. Over 129 games, he batted .288 with an .836 OPS, 14 home runs, 75 RBIs, 18 steals in 24 attempts and 15 outfield assists.

Most noteworthy, the Vanderbilt graduate and Massachusetts native led the Minor Leagues by hustling for 16 triples. The most memorable one came on July 5, when the 2014 Organization All-Star came up to bat in the ninth inning, needing a three-bagger for the cycle, and got one.

We interviewed Yastrzemski, 24, earlier this offseason. Among the topics covered were where he came from and what he's done, as well as where he's going.

MiLB.com: Not that you need to be reminded, but I'm sure the fact that your grandpa is a baseball legend comes up often. Is that something that ever gets old or do you always kind of enjoy that?

Yastrzemski: I enjoy it, because we have a relationship that's like any grandfather-grandson, so I don't really hear the baseball stories too much. So when people bring him up, a lot of the stories are actually new. Some of them I've heard before, but a lot of them are personal experiences, and I think it's really cool to kind of hear the impact that someone I'm so closely related to had on so many others.

MiLB.com: When you think of all that he's taught you about being a ballplayer and being a person, what are some things that stand out?

Yastrzemski: I think the most important thing is the fact that he's told me from such a young age that there has to be a separation between your baseball life and your off-field life. You can't bring a bad game back to the house with you and you can't take anything that happens off the field with you onto the field, or else it's going to be very hard to balance and it's going to be very hard to control your emotions and your thoughts. Baseball is a very mental game as it is, so trying to balance that as well, it's going to be way too much to handle. So I think that's probably the most important fact that he's tried to help me with on and off the field.

MiLB.com: What about physical, playing-the-game stuff? Did he have a big role in your development as a player?

Yastrzemski: We actually used to work every Sunday morning from probably like my sophomore year in high school until my senior year. We would go down to the cages down here in North Andover [Massachusetts] with one of my old hitting coaches, Dave Betancourt, and just kind of take an hour out of the day. We wouldn't go too long because he understands the physical strength that you need to last throughout a season, so we didn't really work strenuous hours. But it was consistent, and what he taught, to me, was very consistent as well.

MiLB.com: I'm sure you recognize how lucky you are to have him as a resource. Does it ever blow you away a bit, the situation being what it is?

Yastrzemski: Absolutely. It's one of those things that I realized I have to take full advantage of and not overuse at the same time. So, by just asking him questions when I'm stuck or trying to work through a slump, understanding how he would do it, that really helps, because when you hear that an 18-time All-Star and Hall of Famer went through slumps, that kind of brings the whole picture around that this game's not so easy and it's easy to get frustrated and you've just got to stick with it.

Mike Yastrzemski chatting with his grandfather, 1989 Hall of Fame inductee Carl, before a Spring Training game in 2014. (Getty Images)

MiLB.com: Are you still a Red Sox fan or have you and the family become full-on Orioles fans since they drafted you?

Yastrzemski: I can't speak for the rest of them, but I'm definitely an Orioles fan. Hopefully, at some point I'll convince everyone to change their mind as well.

MiLB.com: When you got picked by them, was there any uneasiness about going to another AL East team?

Yastrzemski: You know, the funny thing is I didn't really think about it like that. I was kind of in the middle of my college playoffs and I was so focused on trying to make the College World Series that it was like, "OK, the Orioles, cool. All right, now what's next? Let's move on to the game." I was kind of just waiting in the locker room and it just happened so quick that I didn't really have a chance to process what was going on.

MiLB.com: If you don't mind looking forward a bit, how special would it be for you to make it to the Majors and play at Fenway Park, regardless of what uniform you had on?

Yastrzemski: I can't even explain how crazy that would be. Growing up with that name, there's a lot that is expected. I kind of just brushed all that stuff off and made it seem like it was no big deal. But to actually follow through on something like that would be very special, especially because that's just what I've been working for. Just like anyone else, when you achieve a dream, it kind of hits you pretty hard, saying like, "Wow. All the stuff that you go through to try and make this possible was worth it." So I think that's probably the most glorifying feeling that anyone could ever have.

• More quotes from Orioles prospect Mike Yastrzemski »

MiLB.com: Do you ever feel that being Carl Yastrzemski's grandson brings added pressure to your career? Do you ever feel like you're in his shadow and trying to get out or anything like that?

Yastrzemski: I took it on when I was younger, when I was in Little League and before that, because at that point you don't understand the big picture. You're like, "Oh, my grandfather is this, so that means I'm going to be the same way, so I have to do so much more and be the best always." And I felt that for a little bit, until I kind of got to high school and I started to learn the big picture. And there was just a lot more things that I needed to focus on rather than just being the best at baseball -- and that actually helped me become better at baseball, surprisingly.

MiLB.com: Playing as well as you did last season would certainly help you set yourself apart. What was it that allowed you to thrive?

Yastrzemski: I give a lot of credit to the managers and coaches that I've had this past year, the staff overall for the Orioles, because they give you a very strong sense of freedom to be your own player. And that's pretty unique, because for kids who are just becoming part of a system are often given guidelines and rules that you need to follow to earn your way. [The Orioles] just say, "Have at it, try to be the best player you can and never back down." So that was a good feeling to have and almost you want to take pride in that because you don't want to let anyone down or especially let yourself down by pulling up short.

MiLB.com: You ended the year in the Double-A Eastern League. What did you think of the competition there?

Yastrzemski: I thought it was really good. It's definitely a jump because the consistency is much higher. The guys understand the game a little more and you're starting to face guys that have big league experience. And even though those may be guys who are trying to work back or are injured or whatnot, it's still a learning experience for what your ultimate goal is. So it's definitely a bigger jump.

MiLB.com: When you look back on last season, are there any improvements you made that stand out as being particularly significant?

Yastrzemski: I thought I gained a stronger mental approach to the game overall. I learned from a lot of different guys, being teammates and coaches. There's so many different styles of play and so many ways to put your game into play. Just being around so many positive, energetic players and coaches just allowed me to free myself up and not worry about performance and just worry about effort.

MiLB.com: You led all of the Minors with 16 triples. Did that accomplishment come as a surprise to you?

Yastrzemski: That was pretty cool. I never expected to do that. I wasn't expecting to hit a lot of triples or even a lot of extra-base hits. I was just trying to hit the ball hard. A lot of our home fields play pretty big and have big gaps, especially down in Delmarva -- the gaps may be 385 [feet], but they play like they're 400. So if you get a ball in the gap, you just put your head down and say, "I'm getting three."

MiLB.com: Of course, there was that game in July where you needed a triple in the ninth inning for the cycle, and you got it. Was that the most memorable moment of the year for you?

Yastrzemski: Yeah, I think so, more likely because everyone was giving me such a hard time on the bench [after his previous at bat]. They were like, "What are you doing staying on second? You needed a triple for the cycle." And I looked at them, I was like, "I had absolutely no idea." Everyone was giving me such a hard time. I was like, "All right, all right, fine. If I get a chance, I'll do it the next time." And I just hit a ball and ended up [at third]. All the pitchers down in the bullpen were telling me I had to wave to them. It was just fun. It was more like everyone on the team was excited. It wasn't really a personal moment. It was just like so ironic that they'd been giving me such a hard time for not going for the cycle that it ended up happening.

MiLB.com: Looking forward to 2015, are there any particular goals you've set or accomplishments you'd like to make happen?

Yastrzemski: Just to keep improving, kind of the same things that happened this past year. I just want to keep learning and try and get a better understanding of the player I need to be in order to reach my highest potential, because obviously, the goal is to play in the big leagues and I'm trying to not let anything get in the way. So by continuing to grow and be open to potential ways to do that, whether it be learning to bunt more, learning to take better routes in the outfield, learning to use the scouting on other pitchers, all of those things would be great just to take in -- more learning, more knowledge of the game.

MiLB.com: You must be doing everything you can to put yourself in a position to succeed next year. What's the offseason regimen like?

Yastrzemski: It's been great. I try to leave baseball out of it for a good chunk of the offseason because that's something that you've just got to do. You've got to let your hands heal, you've got to let your baseball muscles relax and especially your mind. I learned that kind of last offseason by working out with a couple guys who have been playing for a long time, and they said you've got to trust the ability to put it down and you'll be able to pick back up when you need to.

Mark Emery is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Emery. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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