LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Their eyes light up when they're asked about him.
Christian Yelich is still just 21 years old. He's played only 241 professional games, none above Class A. There are obvious financial incentives for the Marlins not to hurry him to arbitration eligibility. These are all true points and solid reasons why the outfielder will almost certainly open the season with the Double-A Jacksonville Suns.
Still, when Marlins manager Mike Redmond and hitting coach Tino Martinez are asked about the organization's No. 1 draft choice in 2010 and MLB.com's No. 2 Marlins prospect, their eyes light up. Which says even more about how much they think of him than the highly-complimentary words that follow.
Yelich started and led off in the Marlins 10-2 win over the Braves at Champion Stadium on Sunday. He hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh and also scored after being hit by a pitch in the first and after reaching on an error in the sixth. He's batting .379 in Grapefruit League play with three doubles, two homers and 9 RBIs in 29 at-bats.
"I'll tell you, man, I love putting him in that lineup," Redmond said, laughing and shaking is head. "Every opportunity I have to put him in there, I get him in there. He gives you a great at-bat. It doesn't matter who he faces. Believe me, we go around and around [on where he'll start the season]. That's something that we'll have to talk about."
Added Martinez: "He's ready. I don't know where he's going to go. I don't know where they're going to send him. I mean, he's having a great spring and he's proved he can play at this level. And I don't see anything changing. It's not my decision, but it's obvious he's a great hitter. I haven't messed with him. He can just hit."
Yelich has clearly been one of the best Marlins hitters this spring. It's hardly a stretch to suggest that he's one of the best players in camp. Beyond that, though, the discussion on what's best for him and what's best for the team is far more nuanced.
"I think the biggest thing is that we've got to make sure he's ready to come to the big leagues. We don't want to rush guys. That's the biggest thing. We want to make sure he's ready and prepared. He hasn't played above A-ball. At the end of the day, that's just it. We don't want to rush him. We don't have to," Redmond said.
The Marlins have had mixed results with moving players quickly through the system. Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Jeremy Hermida were all considered potential superstars. All were fast-tracked and all made immediate impacts. But while Cabrera and Stanton continued to play at a high level, Hermida soon fell off the radar screen.
"If you go on track records of [most] other guys, the more experience you have playing, the better off you're going to be when you get to the big leagues. It seems to work out that way," Redmond said. "But I think the exciting thing is that he's fun to watch him play and I love throwing him into that lineup. I love it. Because he gives you a good at-bat and he's just fun to watch out there. He's got a chance to be a special player."
If Yelich is letting any of this conjecture get to him, it doesn't show. He shrugged when asked if he'd be disappointed to open the season in Double-A.
"It's kind of out of my control," he said. "That's just part of it and you accept it and that's fine. At the same time, you kind of just figure that if you take care of business and do what you need to do and what you're supposed to do, then everything will take care of itself. And hopefully you'll end up where you want to be.
"Obviously, everyone's goal is to be in the big leagues. But you understand the process and what goes into it. So you can't really be disappointed in it. I don't know how to say this, but you feel good about playing well. Wherever you end up you end up and you can just take away at the end of camp that whatever happens, you know you did a good job and made a good impression."
That precocious willingness to wait, it seems, also carries over to his at-bats. "The most impressive thing is, not really knowing any of these pitchers out there, he lays off the sliders in the dirt, the forkballs in the dirt. He's real patient and has a great idea what he's doing," Martinez said. "He's got a great eye. His approach is fantastic. He doesn't try to pull the ball. He hits the ball where it's pitched."
Redmond sees the same thing. "I think, as a manager, you sit there and you watch these young guys. You watch their at-bats. And a lot of young guys will go up against certain guys and swing out of the zone and chase pitches. They feel uncomfortable against guys that have really good stuff. Well, he's the opposite. The better the pitcher, it seems like, the more patient he is. Nothing seems to rattle him at all and that's impressive," he noted.
Yelich's goal when he came to Spring Training was to relax and learn as much as possible as long as he was in big league camp. He said that the mindset has translated into success so far and watching how veterans like Juan Pierre and Chone Figgins prepare to go to work has been a plus.
"The game of baseball is never easy. It's always tough," he said. "When you have some good stretches you try to ride them out as much as possible. I kind of think that's what's happening with me right now."
He's only had a couple weeks of Spring Training. But that's enough to convince Redmond and Martinez that -- sooner or later -- this is a player who can light up the big leagues.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less