Down on the Farm: Yelich is the real prize in Miami
Notice to Marcell Ozuna owners: Christian Yelich is on the horizon and there might not be room for both of them in Miami's outfield. Scott White says Yelich is the long-term answer in Down on the Farm.
You like what Marcell Ozuna's been doing for you since he came up? That batting average? Those doubles? The home run, even?
Well, stop it. Wipe that silly grin off your face and try to see the big picture here.
The better Ozuna performs, the longer Christian Yelich, the real prize of the Marlins farm system, has to wait his turn. That outfield ain't big enough for the two of them.
No, really. As poorly as the Marlins have performed offensively, they have a surprising strong outfield. Justin Ruggiano has proven he deserves to play every day. Giancarlo Stanton will probably return sooner than later. Throw in Ozuna, and even Juan Pierre is on the outside looking in.
Why would you prefer for Yelich to get those at-bats? Well, for starters, Baseball America rated him the 15th-best prospect coming into the season, with only best-of-the-best types like Oscar Taveras, Wil Myers, Xander Bogaerts, Miguel Sano and Carlos Correa ahead of him, among hitters. Of course, just because he has tons of upside doesn't mean he's ready for the majors, but he's already given us some indication that he is.
You know Yasiel Puig, that minor-leaguer whose .517 batting average in the Cactus League justifies his ownership rate of 41 percent even though he has no clear path to the majors? Yelich was basically the Grapefruit League version of him, sticking around longer than anyone destined for the minors rightfully should just because he wouldn't stop killing the ball.
In a much less hitter-friendly league, he hit .364 with five home runs and a 1.269 OPS in 44 at-bats. And unlike Puig, he actually had a feel for the strike zone, drawing six walks compared to only seven strikeouts.
|1.||Wil Myers, OF, Rays||76|
|2.||Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers||49|
|3.||Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals||48|
|4.||Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets||41|
|5.||Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers||40|
|6.||Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds||36|
|7.||Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates||33|
|8.||Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians||32|
|9.||Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets||32|
|10.||Dylan Bundy, SP, Orioles||31|
I get that it's "just" spring training. Jackie Bradley's big spring won him a job, and he's now back in the minor leagues. Aaron Hicks' big spring won him a job, and he's still a hot streak away from the Mendoza line. But just because spring numbers sometimes mislead even baseball executives doesn't mean they have no application. A good spring is a better indication of major-league readiness than a good stint at Double-A. If you didn't believe it on some level, you wouldn't be wasting a spot on Puig.
Besides, comparing Yelich to Bradley and Hicks isn't entirely fair. They're projected regulars who will likely make a couple All-Star games in their careers, but Yelich is a different class of prospect. In the words of Baseball America, he "has the pure swing of a future batting champion and an advanced approach" -- high enough praise to make him the Marlins' most exciting hitter prospect since Giancarlo Stanton himself, who in turn was their most exciting since Miguel Cabrera.
Chances are if he hadn't missed time early in the season with a foot injury, Yelich would have gotten the call over Ozuna, but the Marlins understandably didn't want their top prospect attempting to break into the majors while recovering from injury and before even playing a game at Double-A. His home runs in back-to-back games, with two triples among his five hits in the second of those games, should allay their fears somewhat, making him a more reasonable candidate for promotion. That is, if Ozuna cooperates.
Listen, he's part of their long-term plans, too. This isn't Shane Spencer coming up and forcing his way into the lineup in defiance of all scouting reports. Ozuna is a legit prospect.
But he's no Yelich. He's no No. 3-hitting, face-of-the-franchise type. If everything goes right, he'll be a steady source of home runs, but coming up at age 22 after playing only 10 games at Double-A, he has his work cut out for him. Considering he hit .266 the last two years at Class A and has a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio throughout his minor-league career, he could be in for a rude awakening.
But he hasn't gotten it yet, and with each multi-hit game to start his career, he earns about a week of leeway.
So enjoy it while it lasts, Ozuna owners. Absorb as many cheap homers as the law of averages will allow. Just remember that when the tide turns, Yelich is just a phone call away.
No, seriously ... remember. As an Ozuna owner, you can be the one who adds Yelich off the waiver wire before the rest of the league even realizes what's happening.
There are many recognizable prospects on this list and if you haven't figured out already, they all belong to one organization -- the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals came into the 2013 season loaded with burgeoning talent, which prompted many media outlets -- including the premier prospect publication, Baseball America -- to rank St. Louis with the best farm system in the majors.
It's not like the Cardinals had a need to add more names to the top of the list, but then again, can you really have too much of a good thing? Introducing starting pitching prospect John Gast.
The 2010 sixth-round pick had varying degrees of recognition coming into this season. MLB.com considered Gast a top 10 prospect (No. 8) in the Cardinals' organization, but Baseball America had him further off the radar, ranking him as St. Louis' 26th-best prospect. Well, there's no denying now he's arrived.
Through his first six starts, Gast has allowed one run through 34 2/3 innings. For those counting at home that resulted in a 0.26 ERA. In fact, he didn't allow his first run until his sixth start. That's right -- he opened the year with five straight scoreless performances and went no shorter than five innings in any of those outings. But perhaps the most impressive stat is Gast hasn't allowed a home run in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where home runs are as common as senior discounts in Florida.
It's been a 180-degree turn for Gast, who struggled after his promotion to Triple-A Memphis last season. After winning 13 games in 28 starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012, he posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 20 starts for Memphis. He also surrendered 10 home runs.
Fully buying into this fast start for Gast would probably be a mistake. Regression is certainly in the offing. While the Cardinals say he's improved his command and his ability to work down in the zone -- which is a reason he hasn't been torched by home runs like he was last season -- no one really talks about Gast being a frontline starter. It's not to say the 24-year-old hurler can't develope into one as he gets closer to his prime, but we need to see how he's performing when the dog days of summer kick in.
Now, let's move onto five other players in the minors grabbing headlines ...
Tyler Collins, OF, Tigers
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
Kevin Plawecki, C, Mets
D.J. Baxendale, SP, Twins
Alen Hanson, 2B/SS, Pirates
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