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Marlins send star prospect Yelich to Minors camp

Marlins send star prospect Yelich to Minors camp play video for Marlins send star prospect Yelich to Minors camp

JUPITER, Fla. -- All along, Christian Yelich knew making the Marlins' Opening Day roster was a long shot.

So what the 21-year-old did was make his demotion a tough decision.

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The expected, yet difficult, call came on Friday, when Yelich was reassigned to Minor League camp, where he will open at Double-A Jacksonville.

"You come in here with realistic expectations," the left-handed-hitting outfielder said. "I came in here not expecting to make the team, but with the idea of, go have fun, make a good impression and just enjoy the time you're up here."

You can file this roster move under the "life's not fair" category.

The business side of the game, coupled with the organization not wanting to rush the highly touted outfielder, were deciding factors.

Yelich, who's ranked 13th on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect List, was Miami's feel-good story of Spring Training. The organization's first-round pick in 2010, Yelich was arguably the team's best player since camp started -- batting .364 with a .451 on-base percentage and a .818 slugging percentage.

Along with Yelich, the Marlins also reassigned right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo and catcher Jake Jefferies to Minor League camp. Right-hander Tom Koehler was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans.

The Marlins now have 38 players in camp.

Regarded as a pure hitter, Yelich also showcased some power. In Grapefruit League play, he had the distinction of belting a homer to lead off a game, which occurred on March 2 at the Mets. He also delivered a walk-off blast with two outs to beat the Red Sox on March 11.

Manager Mike Redmond was so impressed, he kept running Yelich out there, giving the hitting sensation as much big league camp experience as possible.

"He had a great spring," Redmond said. "Like we'd been talking about all spring, he was very impressive. Not just on the field, but the way he handled himself. He's a great teammate. He's a great player. His day will come.

"We've talked about him not having an at-bat above [Class] A ball. Just continue to do what he's doing in Double-A."

This spring, Yelich paces the Marlins in home runs (five), RBIs (14) and runs scored (13).

In the end, the fact Yelich hasn't played above Class A made a difference. He dominated there a year ago, and he's continued to hit.

"They said, 'Good, keep working hard, and we're going to get you some more at-bats,'" Yelich said. "It kind of went how I thought it would go. You can't be upset or disappointed in it, because you did a good job, you played well. I feel like I was able to leave a good impression."

At Class A Jupiter in 2012, Yelich batted .330 with 12 homers and 48 RBIs. After the season, he participated in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .301 in 25 games.

By sending Yelich down now, the Marlins are able to hold off Yelich's MLB service time clock. Clearly, Yelich, a native of Thousand Oaks, Calif., is a big part of Miami's future. If the team waits until around mid-June to bring him up, it will push his arbitration clock back another year.

Delaying the debuts of top propspects is a common practice across the big leagues. In 2010, for instance, the Marlins promoted Giancarlo Stanton from Double-A on June 8. The same day, the Nationals called up Stephen Strasburg.

The reality is that Yelich hasn't played as high as Double-A ball, and there isn't an urgency to rush him. Yelich is a career .322 hitter in the Minor Leagues, where he has 909 total at-bats. A rule of thumb in the league is you know a player is ready when he has 1,500 Minor League at-bats. But that, of course, depends on the player.

"I think the player tells you whether they're ready or not," Redmond said. "Now, it's just a matter of him continuing to do that, to show the consistency. We'll know, when he gets into this Double-A season, how he's doing. He will let us know when he's ready to come to the big leagues."

Comparatively, Mike Trout had 1,117 Minor League at-bats before becoming a fixture in the Angels' lineup last year. The exception to the rule is Bryce Harper, who became a regular with the Nationals last year despite having 461 Minor League at-bats.

"I haven't played above Double-A," Yelich said. "It's a fact. I've been told it for the last two weeks, from everybody."

With Yelich now in Minor League camp, the Marlins will spend their remaining spring games deciding who will play center field. Chris Coghlan, Justin Ruggiano and Gorkys Hernandez are all in the mix.

"It will be nice not having to answer the question, are you going to stay or not?" Yelich said. "I was getting that a lot the last week. It will be go down there and get at-bats every day. I knew this was going to happen. It was a matter of when. It will be good to go down and be with the team I'm going to be with."

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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{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }