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Top prospect Yelich won't let hype distract him

Top prospect Yelich won't let hype distract him
MIAMI -- For Christian Yelich, the hype is about to begin.

It will simmer when Spring Training gets under way and gradually gain momentum throughout the season. The buildup comes with the territory for being an organization's No. 1 prospect.

Yelich is ranked as the No. 17 overall prospect in the game and the fourth-best Minor League outfielder. If all goes as scripted, the projections will continue to rise until the Marlins' 21-year-old sensation reaches the big leagues.

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For Miami, the anticipation will rival that of Giancarlo Stanton, who emerged from powerhouse prospect to bona fide MLB slugger in 2010. Yelich may lack the brute strength of Stanton, but the young outfielder's credentials certainly are impressive. A pure left-handed hitter with speed, he has the makings of a future star and eventual face of the franchise.

"You hear about it," Yelich said of the hype. "You kind of start to understand what is expected from you. You kind of expect that out of yourself, too. Speaking for myself, I have high expectations. I know other people do also. It's an honor, and it's good to be viewed that way. Hopefully, everything works out."

Right now, it is a matter of when Yelich will be ready to make the big league leap.

Ultimately, Yelich's performance, coupled with management's assessment, will decide when that leap occurs. It could be sometime in the second half of 2013, or perhaps as a September callup. Or it could be '14, if the feeling is a complete Double-A season is necessary.

Yelich isn't looking that far ahead. He's in no hurry.

"You want to take your time," the Southern California native said. "They'll let you know when you're ready. It's not my job to tell them when I'm ready to play in the big leagues. It's their job to tell me when I'm ready to play in the big leagues."

Rather than worry about what he can't control, Yelich is simply preparing himself for his first big league camp, which starts with full-squad workouts on Feb. 15 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.

Miami's first-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Thousand Oaks, Calif., Yelich has posted strong numbers in his first two full Minor League seasons. In 2011, he batted .312 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs for low Class A Greensboro. He followed that up by hitting .330 with 12 homers and 48 RBIs at advanced Class A Jupiter, and now he is earmarked to open this year at Double-A Jacksonville.

The Marlins have made it clear in the past that once a prospect shows he can perform at Double-A, they will not hesitate to bring him up to the big leagues.

"I feel like all I can control is my game," Yelich said. "It sounds pretty cliche, but it's true. All I can do is go out there and play my game. When they're ready to tell me I'm ready to be in the big leagues, it's my job to be ready to perform at the big league level, whenever that is."

Where the Marlins currently are as an organization, there is no need to rush. The roster has been overhauled, and the team is redirecting and evaluating what it has. Eventually, Yelich profiles to play either center field or left field for Miami. But there isn't an urgency to move him up too soon.

Juan Pierre, a free-agent signing, will handle left field in 2013. And Justin Ruggiano, Gorkys Hernandez and Bryan Petersen are the front-runners in center field.

Double-A Jacksonville's outfield projects to be top notch, with Yelich, Jake Marisnick and Marcell Ozuna. Yelich played center at Jupiter, but Marisnick has tremendous speed and may wind up taking over the position at Jacksonville. If he does, Yelich would slide over to left field.

In Spring Training, Yelich will get a long look from the Major League coaching staff. Plus, being in big league camp will give him a taste of what to eventually expect once he gets called up.

"I'm going to look to go in and have a strong Spring Training," Yelich said. "I'm not going to treat it any differently than I have my first couple of springs. It's still baseball. It's still the game I grew up playing.

"I feel like I've gotten better every year I've been in pro ball. I think just being in the professional environment every day helps. Playing against guys who are very good and being around coaches who have been there and done that -- and they know what you're going through. They know what the organization expects out of you."

His past two Minor League seasons have given Yelich a taste of winning. The 2011 Greensboro squad won the South Atlantic League championship, and a year ago, Jupiter lost in a decisive Game 5 for the Florida State League title. The nucleus of those teams is moving up to Jacksonville, which should be loaded.

"I feel like we've come up in a winning environment," Yelich said. "All that I've experienced in professional baseball so far is winning championships.

"I've been fortunate enough to play in two Game 5s in the championship series of my first two years in professional baseball. You can't really ask for more. It didn't work out for us last year. We were five, six outs away from winning another ring."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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