Giancarlo Stanton has always been the focal point in Miami, and that is even truer now that he has signed his massive 13-year, $325 million contract. He’s not their only exciting young player, though. They have a pitching staff that includes Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jarred Cosart. Their outfield, besides Stanton, boasts players like Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. It’s that last name I want to focus on here. Yelich is a player who obviously has a lot of traction in dynasty and keeper leagues, as he’s been touted as a top throughout his professional career. Well, things are setting up for him to take a real step forward in 2015, making him an intriguing early pick in redraft leagues as well.
Whether you’re in a league that uses batting average or OBP, Yelich is going to be helpful. At a time when the average outfielder is hitting .259 with a .321 OBP, the Marlins’ center fielder just finished his first full season and put up a .284 average and a .362 OBP. This comes from a player who consistently hit in the high-.200s or low-.300s throughout his minor-league career, and hit a similar .288 in his 273 MLB plate appearances in 2013. To make matters better, he did this with very respectable peripherals. Yelich watched his strikeout rate fall to 20.8 percent last season, while his walk rate stayed at a well above-average clip of 10.6 percent. And he did all that while keeping his swinging-strike rate below the league average.
There will likely be some people who will look at his .356 BABIP last season and fret about his ability to keep that up, but it’s not as big of a problem as it may appear. Yelich has been a good contact player throughout his professional career, something that can be backed up with his numbers as well as various scouting reports. Although batted ball data needs to be taken with a grain of salt, they can be useful when they’re paired with other information. In this case, Yelich’s profile matches everything we think about his hitting ability. He’s been a very good line drive hitter throughout his career, which will obviously help keep one’s BABIP so high. It’s not just that he’s made good contact at a high rate, either. He’s also avoided bad contact, popping up to an infielder just once in his (albeit short) MLB career. When you add a solid dose of good contact and a severe lack of bad contact to his plus speed, you’re going to have consistently high BABIPs.
Speaking of that speed, it’s just another weapon Yelich is going to bring to the table, as he’s a clear 20+ SB threat. In fact, the former first round pick has had at least 20 stolen bases in three of his four professional seasons, managing just 15 in 2013. There’s no reason to expect that to stop now, as he’s shown himself to have the speed and instincts to continue to swipe bags. To wit, his stolen base rate was solidly above average this past season, and he was a perfect 10/10 in 2013. The only issue here would be that Miami did not run very much this past season, so one would have to hope they change their philosophy in this area.
Of course, these are the areas we are expecting Yelich to succeed in, and if he keeps up the status quo he remains a low-end OF2 or high-end OF3 in 12-team mixed leagues. If he wants to improve upon that, he’s going to need to add some more power to his game. Luckily, there are plenty of signs that this is coming. For one thing, it’s important to remember he just finished his age-22 season, and power takes some time to develop. Yelich is no exception to his. For example, here are some excerpts from different Baseball Prospectus scouting reports.
- Jason Parks: “The line-drive pop of the present will eventually turn into over-the-fence power as he continues to mature.”
- Jason Parks: “As he continues to mature and learns the nuances of power, his doubles will start to turn into home runs and he could be a true middle-of-the-lineup threat”
- Nick J. Faleris: “He could reach 20 home runs a year once he is fully matured.”
The point of all this being that scouts have been expecting Yelich to eventually grow into a solid power hitter. He’ll obviously never be Stanton with the bat, but it’s reasonable to expect him to shoot beyond the nine homers he hit a year ago. The signs are already pointing towards it coming soon, too. When I looked to see where he ranked in batted ball distance, I was expecting a respectable placing, but I was surprised by just how well he hit the ball. Only 66 batters in the game averaged more distance on their fly balls in 2014. If that doesn’t sound all that impressive to you, consider the names he was surrounded by. Placing just ahead of the outfielder were Adam Dunn and Nolan Arenado, while Yelich outslugged players like Chris Carter, Adam Jones, Anthony Rizzo, and Edwin Encarnacion. Of course, some of that has more to do with Miami’s humidity and general warmth, but fantasy leagues won’t penalize help from weather. Even considering the dimensions of Marlins Park and their ability to hamper power, it’s not outrageous to see Yelich’s home-run total breaking into the 15-20 range in 2015.
While the Marlins look to extend Yelich, fantasy players need to consider grabbing him in fantasy leagues, as he’s poised to outproduce his draft position. Though he’s currently slated to be a low-end OF2 in standard 12-team leagues, I could easily see his across-the-board production making him a high-end OF2, and possibly even a borderline OF1. He’s going to help out in AVG/OBP, and he’ll get his stolen bases. With Stanton guaranteed to be hitting in the middle of his lineup now, he should be able to cross the plate plenty, too. Power is the one question mark, but he’s still at an age where that will grow, and signs are pointing towards a breakout there in 2015.