After the end of the 2014 season, Mike Yastrzemski was beginning to look like one of the rare overachievers in the Orioles’ minor league system. Originally an unheralded 14th round pick in 2013, Yastrzemski put himself on the map with his play during his first two professional seasons.
After slashing .273/.362/.420 for Aberdeen in 2013, Yaz started the 2014 season in Delmarva. He tore up the Sally League to the tune of a .306/.365/.554 line in 63 games, then continued to hit well after a promotion to Frederick.
By the end of the year, he was in Bowie, and where he managed a roughly league-average .250/.310/.413 line over his final 43 games. His overall performance in 2014 was enough to put him on some organizational top prospect lists, where he generally resided in the bottom part of the top 20.
Fangraphs had Yaz ranked 17th on their organizational list heading into 2015, summing him up by stating that “the tools aren’t great but he gets the most out of them.” That quote seems to be the consensus with Yastrzemski. Read any write-up of Yastrzemski as a prospect and you’ll see the same general theme.
He makes up for mediocre bat speed with a good knowledge of the strike zone. His instincts in the outfield provide him with more range than you’d expect from his average speed. His arm strength isn’t great, but he’s accurate and has a quick release. It’s all the same idea - basically, that he’s better than he looks.
Yastrzemski spent the full 2015 season in Bowie, but he never took the next step to improve on his brief double-A stint from the year before. He had almost the exact same batting line (.246/.316/.372), and remained at the double-A level to begin this year.
This time around, he got the job done. Through 33 games, an .810 OPS was enough to get him promoted to Norfolk. But, as many do upon hitting triple-A for the first time, Yastrzemski struggled the rest of the way.
Over 385 plate appearances for the Tides, Yaz hit just .221/.312/.369. On the bright side, he finished the season with 13 homers (7 in triple-A), compared to just six in 2015. But the biggest problem for him this season was simple: a 25.5% strikeout rate that was far higher than what he’s done in the past.
After such a hot start to his pro career, the past two years have done little to improve or even maintain his prospect status. He currently sits at 17th on the MLB.com list, and SB Nation’s own Minor League Ball has him ranked outside of the top 20.
Next year will be the key for Yastrzemski. A full season in Triple-A will show whether this year was just a bump in the road in adjusting to a new level, or whether he’s gone as far as his tools can take him.
If he can improve at the plate in 2017, Yaz could become a 4th or 5th outfielder - a decent bat off the bench who is capable of playing all three outfield positions in a pinch.
An MLB 4th outfielder would still be good value for a 14th round pick, so even if that’s his ceiling, there’s nothing wrong with that. We still don’t know if he can get to that level, but he’s 26 now, so the O’s need to figure it out soon.
One way or another, the 2017 season will probably tell us whether Yastrzemski has the potential to contribute at the Major League level. Considering the dearth of offensive prospects in the Orioles’ system, let’s hope the answer to that question is yes.