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Yastrzemski happy to be appreciated by Giants

@mi_guardado
March 3, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As he settles into his first full Spring Training with the Giants, Mike Yastrzemski can’t help but reflect on how far he’s come over the last year. He thinks about it often. “Just about every day,” Yastrzemski said on Tuesday. “Just thinking about how crazy one moment

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As he settles into his first full Spring Training with the Giants, Mike Yastrzemski can’t help but reflect on how far he’s come over the last year. He thinks about it often.

“Just about every day,” Yastrzemski said on Tuesday. “Just thinking about how crazy one moment can be that changes your life and your career. Just being able to be here and be happy, and appreciated every step of the way.”

Exactly one year ago, Yastrzemski was among the Orioles’ first round of cuts from big league camp. He won’t have to worry about prematurely cleaning out his locker this spring, as he is expected to be an integral part of the Giants’ outfield after delivering a breakout campaign as a 28-year-old rookie in 2019.

He appreciates how transparent the Giants have been with him about his role this season, a luxury he never enjoyed with the Orioles.

“I felt like I was stuck there,” Yastrzemski said. “No matter whether I did good or bad, I was going to start in the same place and end in the same place. It seemed like there was no plan for me there.”

A 14th-round pick out of Vanderbilt in the 2013 MLB Draft, Yastrzemski spent his first six professional seasons grinding in the Orioles' Minor League system, never climbing higher than Triple-A Norfolk. He spent last offseason training with former college teammate Tony Kemp, who Yastrzemski has credited with helping him make some adjustments to his swing that allowed him to crush a career-high 33 home runs between the Minors and the Majors in 2019.

With the arrival of a new O's regime headed by general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde last offseason, Yastrzemski initially hoped he’d have the opportunity to showcase those changes and open eyes again in Orioles camp. But that optimism soon waned.

“I got cut from [big league] camp before Minor League camp even started,” Yastrzemski said. “So it felt like it was a move to just keep me in the game as like a crutch. I didn’t really like the feeling of being a crutch. I felt like I had more to offer than that.”

Realizing there was no path forward for him with the O's, Yastrzemski began researching teams in need of outfield help, and he quickly identified the Giants as an ideal landing spot. A few weeks later, he got his wish.

As Yastrzemski was preparing to serve as a reserve outfielder for a Spring Training game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., Yastrzemski received a call from Elias, who informed him that he’d been traded to the Giants in exchange for Minor League right-hander Tyler Herb.

It was a career-altering moment for Yastrzemski, who felt he needed a change of scenery to have a real shot at reaching the Majors.

“A couple days before, I had been playing GM by myself, looking where I would have a chance to go play somewhere,” Yastrzemski said. “This was the first place that I wanted to come. It seemed like they needed some outfield help, and they were indecisive in who was going to take that job. There wasn’t really a definitive answer. I thought it would be a good place for me to go and let everything loose, just be relaxed and play my game. I got lucky enough to come here and just tried to make an impact.”

After enjoying a hot start to the season at Triple-A Sacramento, Yastrzemski finally received his long-awaited call to the big leagues in May. He never left, slashing .272/.334/.518 over 107 games with the Giants.

Yastrzemski finished the season with 21 home runs, tied with Kevin Pillar for the team lead, and he delivered one of the signature moments of the 2019 season, when he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, and homered at Fenway Park in September.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman, who played with Yastrzemski in the Orioles' system, said he tuned in for that series in Boston, and he was thrilled to see his former teammate find success in the Majors after being overlooked by the O's. Gausman said he’s long respected Yastrzemski’s “baseball IQ” and tenacity at the plate, and he was excited to reunite with him after signing a one-year, $9 million deal with the Giants this offseason.

“I was always kind of like, ‘Why won’t they call this guy up?’” Gausman said. “I was happy to see him go somewhere else, honestly. I kind of knew that if a team is willing to get you, they obviously want you. For whatever reason, [the Orioles] maybe just didn’t like him. Unfortunately, that happens to a lot of guys. It takes going somewhere else to really get an opportunity. I’m happy now that he’s my teammate here and obviously going to be a staple in our lineup. I’m excited to get to watch him play.”

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.