Earlier this week, we debuted the 2014 Miami Marlins Keys to Success. Just like last year, we discussed the fate of five players whose development into regulars could be critical to the success of the next great Marlins team in two to three years. Miami is counting on using this 2014 regular season to evaluate their play and see who they have in each player.
The first player on the list is the player most likely to develop well for Miami. Christian Yelich entered the 2013 season as a top-20 hitting prospect, a smooth-swinging, athletic outfielder with strong plate skills and developing power. He left 2013 with answers regarding whether he was ready for the majors (yes) and questions as to how effective his skill set is. Despite a great year in Double-A and a strong debut in the big leagues, he is still a player who is difficult to prognosticate.
Why is Yelich a Key to Success?
Simply put, Yelich is the best hitting prospect the Marlins have had since Giancarlo Stanton, and he is one of the few homegrown position player prospects to hit over the last eight years for Miami. The team spent time missing on players like Matt Dominguez, Kyle Skipworth, and others, so when it finally hit on a first-round position player like Yelich, it had to be ecstatic. The team also had to be happy because Yelich's arrival comes at the right time, with the team deplete of talent and cheap again after a failed 2012 campaign.
Yelich brings a balanced skill set that should play well in the confines of Marlins Park. He is a line-drive hitter with high BABIPs in the minors who also displayed great plate discipline. Since his first full minor league season in 2011, Yelich never walked in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances. He never hit worse than .280 at any one level, with an OBP never below .365. He stole bases at a successful rate (78 percent career in minors). He was even developing power at the tail end of his time in Double-A. While Stanton had an 80 toolset in power and big questions in terms of strikeouts, Yelich is as balanced as they come. He even adds a solid amount of defensive value as an athletic player with a known but acceptable flaw.
Unfortunately, Yelich's game still has problems, as balanced as it is. He flashed improved power in Double-A, but that pop did not translate into the majors in his stint last season. Marlins Park is expansive and built for the doubles and triples which could feed Yelich's swing, but a lack of home run power can still limit a player if he is deficient in other skills.
And as balanced as Yelich is at the plate, he still does have two major issues. The first is his strikeout rate. A 20 or so percent mark is unremarkable for a lot of players, but the guys who do not hit home runs have to be careful about that kind of performance. Even with Yelich's ability to get on base, a 20 percent mark could sink his line from exceptional to closer to average, and since he will be manning left field for the foreseeable future, he would have to excel elsewhere. It is reasonable suspect his BABIP will remain above average given his minor league track record, but depending on that without improving on the strikeout totals could keep him from reaching star status.
The other concern has been his platoon splits. In the minors, he always displayed some semblance of a split, but it was difficult to notice given how well he was hitting overall. It became evident last year in Double-A, when he hit only .182/.272/.275 in limited work. That issue continued in the majors, where he hit .165/.245/.231 (.222 wOBA) against southpaws. This is a natural problem early in a young lefty's career, and you imagine that a player like Yelich with such a hitch-free swing and beautiful mechanics would eventually be able to figure it out. Then again, it is not as though prospect mavens did not rave about Logan Morrison's or Jeremy Hermida's swings either.
Miami will throw Yelich into the fire for the entirety of 2014, and his early success last year showed that he is probably ready. But unlike with Stanton, it is difficult to predict either a big boom or bust from Yelich. His balance should keep him acceptable, but his limitations as of now may make him fall short of being a star.
So what will he be next season? It is very likely that Yelich can put on an average campaign thanks to small, positive value at the plate, on the field, and on the bases. The key for Miami will be to see if that player continues on to develop a little more value from each area and become a multidimensional star or if his platoon or strikeout problems keep him at the level he is at.