Prospect Yelich strives to become complete hitter

Prospect Yelich strives to become complete hitter

JUPITER, Fla. -- Christian Yelich is predominantly right-handed. He throws, writes, shoots a basketball and swings a tennis racket all from the right side. So it's hard to figure exactly why when he first picked up a baseball bat, he became a natural lefty.

It's not like he was advised at a young age to either switch-hit or bat left-handed. It's just what he started doing at age 4 when he was introduced to the game, and the Marlins' top hitting prospect certainly has no regrets.

The 21-year-old has a silky smooth swing, and he's shown signs of being a natural-born hitter.

"I always just picked up a bat and hit lefty," said Yelich, one of the league's most highly touted prospects. "Ever since I was young, it's how I felt most comfortable. I can't hit right-handed for the life of me. I always just liked lefty. Lefty just stuck with me. It turned out being a good thing."

The results speak for themselves.

A first-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Yelich is on the fast track to what the Marlins hope will become a stellar big league career.

"I've been watching him the last few days, trying to get a feel for him," hitting coach Tino Martinez said. "When I watch him take batting practice, he has a great swing."

Martinez, a pretty successful left-handed hitter in his playing days, envisions Yelich becoming a .300-caliber MLB hitter.

"When I think of him, I think a little bit about Grady Sizemore," Martinez said of the former Indians outfielder. "The way he swings the bat -- a lot of doubles, a gap-power hitter with a little home run power. He has speed. He's that kind of player."

Before a string of injuries, Sizemore was a force in Cleveland.

Yelich has the makings of being an impactful middle-of-the-lineup presence in Miami.

The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native is a pure hitter. A year ago, with Class A Jupiter, he batted .330 with 29 doubles, five triples, 12 home runs and 48 RBIs.

Playing center field, he has very good speed, reflected by his 20 stolen bases.

In time, as he tacks on more size, he likely will become more of a power threat. More importantly than just power, Yelich is striving to become is a complete hitter. That's why, at 8:30 a.m. ET on Monday -- 90 minutes before practice started -- he was working on bunting.

Yelich, Jake Marisnick, Danny Black and Kevin Mattison each took part in drills with coach Joe Espada on sacrificing and bunting for hits.

Not that the organization plans on having him give himself up, but Yelich wants to polish up on all aspects of his game.

"Bunting is really important, if needed to do it," Yelich said. "You always want to be a complete player. Or at least you try to be. It's tough sometimes. Bunting is pretty tough for me."

Plus, with is speed, Yelich could add 10 or 12 more hits a season simply by bunting.

"I don't think they want me to do that [bunt regularly], but you want to have the confidence if it is asked of you," Yelich said.

An eagerness to learn and strong work habits have elevated Yelich to being one of the top Minor League talents in the game. He is ranked 13th on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list.

In his first big league Spring Training camp, Yelich already is seeking the advice of veteran Juan Pierre, one of the hardest workers in the league.

"Work ethic, it doesn't matter if you're a pitcher or a hitter, you can see how he goes about his business," Yelich said. "He's been really successful doing it. You kind of watch him to see how it's done."

Entering the 2010 Draft, Yelich was considered the most advanced high school hitter available. Three years later, he is projected to start off at Double-A Jacksonville. If he keeps progressing, he could make a quick leap to the big leagues around midseason or 2014.

The tougher the competition, the more Yelich will have to make the necessary adjustments, especially when it comes to pitch selection.

"Not necessarily his pitch selection, but the pitcher's pitch selection," said Marty Scott, the Marlins' vice president of player development. "At the lower Minor League levels, they know he's a future Major Leaguer, so they get a little more amped up to face him.

"At the lower levels, you're going to see a lot more fastballs, because they want to throw it by him and strike him out. Now, at the Double-A level and from now on, he's going to have to make adjustments at the plate. He's not necessarily going to get a fastball all the time. Before, the advantage was you were going to get a lot of fastballs."

In favorable hitter's counts -- like 2-0 -- Yelich will have to look for offspeed pitches as well.

As he gets closer to reaching the big leagues, Martinez wants Yelich to avoid trying to do too much. When players start to do that, they tend to "overswing," trying to generate more power.

"Basically, he doesn't have to worry about hitting home runs," Martinez said. "He's a fast guy. He's an athletic guy. Just play his game. He doesn't have to do too much and try to impress people with power numbers. He's got power, and the power is going to come as he gets older."

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.