By: Nick Roark
A single, hyphenated word is often used to describe Jacksonville Suns center fielder Christian Yelich: All-Star. Ask most well-educated Miami Marlins fans about Yelich and they will simply say he is a future star.
Yelich was appropriately described by those two adjectives this past Sunday at the All-Star Futures game in New York City where the Marlins’ second-rated prospect, according to Baseball America, started as the designated hitter for the U.S. Futures team and exhibited why he could soon shine bright in Miami.
“It’s a great experience, something I’m glad I got to do,” Yelich said of participating in the game. “You kind of just try to step back and enjoy the moment and the experience of the whole day… just take it all in and really enjoy it.”
The Marlins prospect certainly enjoyed himself in his first at-bat Sunday when, in the bottom of the second inning, he faced off against Southern League foe and Montgomery Biscuits starter Enny Romero. Yelich one-hopped a 96mph fastball off the center field wall to score Chattanooga Lookouts outfielder Joc Pederson and give the U.S. Futures squad a 1-0 lead in what ended up being a 4-2 victory.
“It’s kind of rare in those games where you get to see somebody you’ve seen a lot before,” Yelich said of seeing Romero. “I saw him last year in the Florida State League and I missed him this year. I was on the [disabled list] when we played them in Montgomery but I just got a good pitch to hit and got a good swing on it.”
[TO SEE YELICH'S RBI-DOUBLE, CLICK HERE]
The highly touted prospect made his second Futures’ appearance in New York after participating in last year’s game at Kansas City. It is the latest milestone in a lengthy line of accomplishments for the 2010 first-round draft pick. The 21-year-old is also the only individual to be twice named the Miami Marlins Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s something that I was proud of those first two years,” Yelich said of the honor. “I would’ve liked to stay a little bit more healthy this year. I spent a couple of months on the DL here but [I’ll] try to have a strong second half and finish strong.”
Rated as the 10th best prospect in all of Minor League baseball by MLB.com, the outfielder has seen his fair share of injuries this year. Yelich began the season sidelined for two weeks with plantar fasciitis and made a return trip to the disabled list in early June when he missed five weeks with an abdominal strain. Despite the setbacks, scouts believe the California native remains likely to receive his call to the big leagues before the conclusion of the season in September.
Suns manager Andy Barkett said a call-up is not out of the question for his outfielder, but that Yelich could benefit from more time in the Minor Leagues.
“He’s ready or close to being ready in some people’s eyes because of the displays he’s putting on here,” Barkett said. “We’ve also seen him go through stretches where he’s scuffled just like anybody else. But he’s a special player, he’s a special hitter. You don’t see guys like him very often.”
Yelich admitted he has been forced to deal with the thought of being promoted to the Major Leagues since Spring Training and said “it’s tough” to balance those thoughts while maintaining his focus with Jacksonville. However, the 195-pound prospect is approaching the situation with a day-to-day mentality.
“I’ve kind of learned to deal with it a little bit by just not worrying about it, trying to take your mind off it and worry about helping your team win in the moment,” Yelich said. “I think if you do that, everything kind of takes care of itself. In the end, those things are something you can’t really control.”
Barkett said he does believe the Marlins will bring Yelich to the Majors soon due to a crowded Miami outfield that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Justin Ruggiano. But the South Division All-Star manager says the Marlins will have a productive outfielder on their hands for years to come.
“The ball jumps off his bat like it does Major League hitters,” Barkett said. “He’s very patient at the plate for the most part. He’s just a very advanced kid mentally where he doesn’t let a lot get to him.”
“He changes our lineup immediately with just his presence,” Barkett said.
Although a call to the big leagues is prevalent in the mind of Yelich, he is concentrated on being a team leader and helping his Jacksonville squad win now.
“I think [winning] kind of gets overlooked,” Yelich said. “Everyone wants to see your individual statistics but doing the little things, moving a guy over, getting a guy in with less that two outs, you know little things like that are really important.”
Miami fans are hopeful the future star can soon help turn around a Marlins’ organization that has endured three consecutive losing seasons.
Since finishing the 2009 season with an 87-75 record, the Marlins organization is a combined 221-265 in the past three full seasons. The 2013 Marlins are currently 35-59 and sit 19 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division.
As for now, Yelich will patiently wait for his Major League phone call and continue to shine bright for Jacksonville until he lights the skies in Miami.
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is a Broadcast & Media Assistant for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.