The Miami Marlins had two highly-ranked prospects heading into the 2013 season. One, Jose Fernandez, already made his mark since the start of the year, but the other, outfielder Christian Yelich, had to wait until late July before he got a chance at the big leauges. Yelich, who was ranked as a top-20 prospect almost universally heading into the 2013 season, was brought up in a major move in late July that saw the demotion (and eventual DL move) of Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich.
Yelich took over the job from day one and had an impressive but mixed first season in the big leagues.
Yelich delivered on some of the promise that he showed in the minor leagues. For one, he showed a strong ability to pick up hits, as he had done at the lower levels. His BABIP was a sky-high .380 on the season, and while that warrants calls for regression in 2013, it does match up with his minor league track record as well (.380 career minor league BABIP).
But beyond the likely unsustainable BABIP, there were some good signs. Yelich swing rates were impressive and indicative of a selective player. He swung at about an average number of pitches in the strike zone in 2013 (63.1 percent versus an average of 62.7). But on pitches out of the zone, Yelich showed great patience and selectivity. He swung at just 22.4 percent of pitches out of the strike zone this year versus a league average of 29.7 percent. Marlins fans knew that Yelich had an advanced approach, and his early start only confirms that. The selectivity led directly to his 11.4 percent walk rate this year; indeed, Yelich's patience excelled to the point that he was fourth on the team in walks with six players behind him who had more plate appearances than him.
The concerns he showed on offense were twofold. It was expected that he might struggle with generating power, given that Yelich is still 21 years old and looks like a teenager. But it is worth noting that he did not show off the power he had in Double-A this season. In 222 Double-A plate appearances, he hit seven home runs had a .238 ISO. In the majors, he sent four home runs out along with 12 doubles, good only for a .108 ISO. Yelich still has time to grown into some power, but right now he is not displaying much, and that needs to change.
The more concerning problem is his continued issue with contact. Yelich struck out in 24.2 percent of his plate appearances this year. For a player without much power, this sort of strikeout rate may jeopardize his batting average and OBP. Oddly enough, the problem is clearly not in his plate discipline, as he has displayed the ability to discern ball from strike. In 2013, the issue was in trying to make contact on those pitches. Yelich made contact on just 86.8 percent of pitches in the zone, which would have ranked 98th among the 140 qualified Major League hitters this season. His 47.1 percent mark on swinfs out of the zone would have been among the worst in baseball this year, near strikeout artists like Jay Bruce, Adam Dunn, and Giancarlo Stanton.
Yelich's strikeout concerns originated from the minors, when his rate jumped up to 23.4 percent this season in Double-A. It continued in the majors, and it is the single most important question he will have to answer next season. But the start this year was a promising one at the plate, and if his well-considered defense is rated any better in the coming years, the Marlins should have a three-win player as early as next year.