O's prospect Yastrzemski grateful for adversity
Now in AFL, grandson of Hall of Famer struggled in Minors this season, giving him perspective
SCOTTSDALE, AZ -- Mike Yastrzemski didn't ask for adversity, but he's absolutely willing to learn from it. Yastrzemski, the grandson of Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski, played through his second tour in the Double-A Eastern League this season and finished with a career-worst batting average (.246).
The younger Yastrzemski is an outfielder in the Baltimore Orioles' organization, and he's currently getting in some extra work with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. And when the 25-year-old evaluates his season, he admits that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing for him to run into a roadblock.
"It was probably good for me to realize this isn't the easiest game in the world," he said on Wednesday, hours before his team took on the Surprise Saguaros at Salt River Fields. "You've got to learn to make adjustments and learn to make them on the go in the game as quick as possible."
Yastrzemski, who starred at Vanderbilt University prior to becoming a 14th-round selection by the Orioles in the 2013 MLB Draft, had immediate success as a professional. He moved through three levels in 2014, starting out in the Class A South Atlantic League and finishing the year with Double-A Bowie.
Yastrzemski hit over .300 in both of his stops in Class A in 2014, but he slowed down to a .250 average and a .310 on-base percentage at Bowie. This year, he had more playing time in Bowie but played mostly to the same level, notching a .246 average and a .316 on-base mark over a full season.
Buried in the numbers, though, was a cause for optimism. Yastrzemski had one disastrous month for Bowie, batting .164 in 22 games in June. If that month is excised from the record, he batted .261 at Double-A this season, and Yastrzemski is hopeful to put up even better numbers in Arizona.
"I felt I made a lot of progress, especially toward the end of the year," he said. "I was just trying to stay consistent and to be productive and that was definitely a big focus point at the end."
Yastrzemski homered in his first AFL game on Tuesday, and he's playing under the watchful eye of former big-leaguer Sean Berry, the hitting coach for Triple-A Norfolk and the Peoria Javelinas. Berry said that Yastrzemski is ready for Triple-A right now, and that he was held back from experience at the highest level of the Minors by a stockpile of outfielders that includes Dariel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia.
"He's got some competition," said Berry. "I always say, 'If you give us a choice, it's going to be a hard choice.' He needs to find a way to separate himself from those guys, whether it's more power, more average, more runs scored or more on-base percentage. The trap that most of the young kids fall into is they try to be something that they're not. He's at that point in his career now where he's trying to figure out what kind of player he's going to be for the rest of his career. That's an important step for him."
Yastrzemski is the 13th-ranked prospect in Baltimore's organization according to MLB Pipeline, and Berry will get an extra month to give him pointers in Arizona. But the bottom line is that Yastrzemski just has to be more consistent, and that means not allowing bad months to spiral into terrible months.
"It's all in a cycle. You'll get your turn," said Berry. "We all went through it as players, where you say, 'How am I ever going to play at Triple-A? Look at the guys that are up there.' Before you know it, you're in Triple-A and you're in the big leagues. It happens a lot quicker than you'd think. He's on his way."
Yastrzemski understands that part, and he knows that he just has to make subtle adjustments to improve his big-league stock. The left-handed hitter wants to stay in the moment in Arizona, and he wants to make sure he works on the little things that will give him a chance to be successful in April.
And when it comes down to it, he knows he has an ace in the hole. Yastrzemski doesn't want to burden his famous grandfather, who won the batting title three times and delivered 3,419 hits for the Red Sox, but he knows that he can always get some constructive criticism whenever he needs it.
"He's always there for advice," he said. "Anytime I need to call, I can do that. But I usually try to give him a break from baseball. It's been a while. Probably once a month or something like that."