Hard work, family help Orioles minor leaguer Mike Yastrzemski climb through system

The Baltimore Sun

A familiar process plays out each time you see the descendant of a baseball legend in an obscure minor league ballpark.

It's something both observers and the player himself have to deal with — the realization that he is not his namesake, then the understanding that such a standard is unfair and, finally, an appreciation for all the things the new generation does well.

Orioles minor league outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, has dealt with it all, and now he is earning notice for more than just his name. The club's 14th-round draft pick last summer has climbed rapidly through the organization's minor league system this year.

He has done so, in part, because he strives to embody the work ethic and respect that marked his grandfather's 23-year career in Boston.

While living with those expectations, Yastrzemski has learned to treat what he knows is a humbling game with a confidence born of his own hard work. With every new challenge he faces, he tells himself he belongs before proving it to everyone else.

"You don't want to put anything by that kid," said Tim Corbin, Yastrzemski's coach in college at Vanderbilt. "I think he'll play in the big leagues. He's just that kid. He won't be denied. He can't be denied. He'll find any way to get there."

After starting this season at Low-A Delmarva, Yastrzemski moved to High-A Frederick on June 19. And then, less than a month later, he was promoted to Double-A Bowie on Wednesday. In his first game with the Baysox on Thursday, Yastrzemski was 4-for-5 with a triple and two runs scored.

Before moving to Bowie, Yastrzemski hit .308 with a .895 OPS and 21 doubles, 12 triples, 11 home runs, and 17 stolen bases in 86 games between Delmarva and Frederick, one of two players in the minor leagues to reach double digits in all four categories.

Five years ago, Yastrzemski ended up at Vanderbilt after passing up a chance to sign with the Red Sox, who had picked him in the 36th round of the 2009 draft. At the time, Baseball America called him "the most polished prep hitter in New England" — the weekly batting cage sessions with his grandfather likely helped — but Corbin was sure he'd go to college instead of beginning his professional career.

"He had too many influences that had savvy and experiences of professional baseball, and knew the progression was for him to come to college for him to grow mentally and grow physically," Corbin said.

Those influences were the extended family members who nurtured Yastrzemski on and off the field.

His father, Carl Jr., who went by Mike, was a minor league baseball player himself. Yastrzemski's parents were divorced when he was younger, and his father died when he was in middle school.

Family was more to Yastrzemski than his parents or grandfather, though. His aunts, uncles and cousins remain incredibly supportive, he said, and are the "number one reason I'm able to be where I am."

"It's so rare, and it's so hard to replicate, and it's so hard to thank," he said.

Yastrzemski was drawn to Vanderbilt because of the team's tough-guy attitude, and he forced himself to learn that early.

"Just because there are guys that are going to be first-rounders and second-rounders that you're going to be facing doesn't mean that you can't hang with them," Yastrzemski said. "You're going to have to tell yourself you're good enough. …

"That's tough at first, being a young guy, facing guys who are 20, 21, and being 18 and definitely underdeveloped as a ballplayer coming from the Northeast. But the more you get in there, the more you stick your nose into places you probably shouldn't and try and get after it a little bit, you figure it out."

Yastrzemski earned a starting spot in Vanderbilt's outfield during his freshman year. He started every game in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons at Vanderbilt, posting a career batting line of .292/.393/.416 with 67 extra-base hits and 62 stolen bases.

His improvement was clear, Corbin said, thanks to the player's own industry.

"I can remember there were times that, because of his body, that we would shut him down and tell him he couldn't hit in the cages, and tell him we didn't want him to overdo it," Corbin said.

Yastrzemski comes by it honestly. After bad games, Yastrzemski's grandfather would enlist the Fenway Park grounds crew to toss batting practice and help him work out of funks.

He passed up the opportunity to sign with the Seattle Mariners after they drafted him in the 30th round following his junior season in 2012, instead following through on a promise to his father to get his degree. Vanderbilt provided that, and helped him build defense against the pressure of his lineage.

"I've learned to understand what it's like to have a famous relative," Yastrzemski said. "The expectations that people put on you; I don't feel pressure from them anymore. When I was younger, I did because I didn't understand the game as well, and how hard it really is to succeed at this game."

Yastrzemski was one of the oldest draft-eligible prospects last year, and his polish has carried him through the system quickly. He helped short-season Single-A Aberdeen to its first New York-Penn League division title last summer, earned a South Atlantic League All-Star spot in June, and earlier this month hit for Frederick's first cycle in nine years.

Like his grandfather and father, Yastrzemski — at 5 feet 11, 180 pounds — doesn't cut an imposing figure, but he carries the one he was blessed with the same way they did — with poise and purpose. Scouts praise him for the way he does little things like run the bases, track balls in the outfield, and not give away at-bats.

His tools don't stand out — he's a polished hitter with gap power, around average speed with good instincts on the bases, an above-average arm and strong outfield defense. But a background and makeup like the one Frederick manager Luis Pujols saw in his brief time with Yastrzemski can only amplify his tools.

"He'd go out in the outfield [during batting practice] and shag, go after fly balls like a game situation," Pujols said. "He's very active. Baseball is in his blood, and he knows how to go about his business. I've got to tip my hat to him for that. You don't see guys his age doing everything by the book when it comes to baseball."



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