After breaking out, Yepez still rolling in AFL

October 22nd, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- just keeps on hitting.

The 23-year-old put together a breakout campaign during the regular season and has continued to swing a hot bat in the early stages of the Arizona Fall League.

Yepez extended his hitting streak to five games with a 2-for-5 performance in Glendale’s 10-5 win over Salt River at Salt River Fields on Thursday night.

“I just try to keep it simple,” Yepez said after his second multihit performance of the fall. “Just trying to bring what I did in [Triple-A] Memphis here. See the ball, hit the ball. Keep it simple.”

The approach certainly worked for Yepez during the regular season as he compiled a slash line of .286/.383/.586 over 111 games between Double-A Springfield and Memphis. And it’s continued to work in Arizona, where he’s hitting .333 with seven RBIs through six games.

A large part of Yepez’s emergence can be attributed to his increased ability to drive the baseball. The Cardinals' No. 27 prospect hit 26 homers over his first five Minor League seasons.

In 2021 -- citing both an increase in strength and a focus on hitting the ball hard -- he belted 27.

If hitting the ball hard is the goal, Yepez succeeded Thursday. He got the scoring started for the Desert Dogs by turning around a 95-mph fastball and lining it into left-center field for his third double of the fall. The two-bagger, which drove in two, had a 101.7 mph exit velocity and jumpstarted a four-run first inning.

“I was just thinking, ‘This guy [Wilmer Flores of the D-backs] has a pretty good arm, throwing a high-speed fastball,” Yepez said. “I just let the first one go and I saw it had a little hop, so I tried to stay on top of it and it worked.”

Extreme exit velocities proved to be the theme of the evening as the teams combined to hit 11 balls over 100 mph, including Grae Kessinger’s second AFL homer, a rocket (105.8 mph) out to left in the sixth.

Salt River, playing without Spencer Torkelson after the Tigers' No. 1 prospect sprained his ankle Wednesday, fought back with three runs in the third and two in the sixth as Ryan Vilade and Wilmer Reyes delivered two-run triples. But Glendale broke the game open with a four-run seventh, snapping its two-game skid.

Yepez, of course, played a role in that pivotal seventh, though this time he got out in front of a slider and blooped a single into left. After advancing to second on a wild pitch, top Cardinals prospect Nolan Gorman brought him home with a double.

While the bats garnered the bulk of the attention, Landon Knack turned in a solid start for Glendale, though a shaky third muddied his overall line. The Dodgers' No. 8 prospect retired six of the first seven batters he faced and struck out the side in the third. Sitting in the low- to mid-90s throughout his start, Knack threw 36 of his 56 pitches for strikes and fanned six over 2 2/3 innings. He showed good command and didn’t issue any walks, but he gave up four hits, three of which came around to score.

Whether it’s a homer, a line drive in the gap or a bloop hit, plenty seems to be going right for Yepez these days. The outfielder said he feels locked in at the plate, but also knows he’s yet to hit his ceiling.

“I feel good, but I know it’s going to be better soon.”