Solid mental approach leads to All-Star season for Mike Yastrzemski

Sure, he has a famous baseball name, but this year Mike Yastrzemski is making a name for himself.

He's had a huge year, filling up the stat sheet for Single-A Delmarva, and is one of seven Shorebirds that will play in tonight's South Atlantic League All-Star game in Hickory, N.C.

Over 63 games, the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski is batting .306 with 14 doubles, a league-leading 10 triples, 10 homers and 44 RBIs. The Orioles' 14th-round pick in 2013 out of Vanderbilt has an OBP of .365, a .554 slugging percentage and a .919 OPS.

yastrzemski-mike-sidebar-fistbump.pngWhen I talked with Yastrzemski yesterday, he painted a picture of himself as a player that has come a long way with the mental part of the sport, which has led to his physical skills showing through. His big year is not necessarily about bat speed, pitch recognition or his conditioning.

The younger Yaz said the mental part of the game was emphasized at Vanderbilt and it remains big for him today.

"People develop as great players by playing free and loose and not afraid to make mistakes," Yastrzemski said. "Then you can play at a higher level than you think you are capable of. It was something preached at our college. Coach (Tim) Corbin was huge on the mental part of the game and having everyone understand how great their potential is."

Yastrzemski also credits Delmarva manager Ryan Minor and the Shorebirds coaching staff for fostering an atmosphere where the Shorebirds players can thrive.

"I think some of the keys have been just the feeling of freedom from the coaching staff," Yastrzemski said. "They are out here just trying to have fun and help the team win. That always makes it a lot easier to perform when things are loose and fun.

"Part of it is experience. Seeing as many pitches as I can, learning how the pitchers are thinking, trying to observe the game and learn as much as I can about playing a full season."

Yastrzemski's father, Mike, was a third-round pick by Atlanta in 1984 and he made it as far as Triple-A. The older Mike died from complications following hip surgery at age 43 in 2004. His grandfather made his legend playing for the Red Sox. Boston did draft the younger Mike out of high school in the 36th round in 2009, but he went on to college and the O's selected him last June in the 14th round after his senior season.

Yastrzemski batted .273 in 57 games last year for short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He made the New York-Penn League All-Star game and will play in another All-Star game tonight.

He said along with the mental approach that has helped him so much this year, he's been working to deal well with the grind of playing every day at the pro level.

"You know, mentally you just understand that going 0-for-5 is going to happen, that you have 500 at-bats and learning to understand that any one at-bat, you can't throw it away," he said. "You can get better or worse in that one at bat. In college, with fewer at bats you have to try and produce as quickly as possible. You have to learn to grind it out more at this level.

"There is a daily grind that exists in minor league baseball. You have to fight the daily routine and learn to make it your own. You have to find a way to mentally tell yourself, 'Today, I will learn everything that I can.' "

Yastrzemski's name peppers the South Atlantic League's leaderboards. He leads the league in triples and total bases, is second in slugging, runs and extra-base hits, and is third in hits.

His season has included a 15-game hitting streak, an inside-the-park homer, a game with two bases-loaded triples and a pair of multi-homer games.

yastrzemski-mike-runs-white-sidebar.pngHe has a whopping 10 triples and seven have come at Salisbury's Perdue Stadium. That is a lot of three-baggers.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "But when you see how big our field plays, people will more understand that. Just try to put the ball in the right place."

Yastrzemski said he has always tried to play an all-around solid game and that includes defense. In addition to all his offensive stats, he leads the league with 12 outfield assists.

"I've built my career, through high school and college, trying to master all the little things that are important in the game," he said. "Trying to find a way to make an impact on the field."

Tonight, he will start in the All-Star game and join pitcher Hunter Harvey and third baseman Drew Dosch as starters from Delmarva. Pitchers Sebastian Vader and Jimmy Yacabonis also made the team and on Monday, two more Shorebirds were added to the All-Star roster - first baseman Trey Mancini and pitcher Dylan Rheault.

That is seven Delmarva players in the All-Star game. That may be the most Shorebirds ever to make the All-Star game. League records are incomplete, so it's impossible to know for sure. But it's quite a haul of All-Stars for Delmarva.

"That is a great honor," Yastrzemski said. "All those guys are deserving. It is also a great acknowledgment for our staff, too, and shows how much they put into us. Can't say enough about what they have done for us."

For the 23-year-old outfielder, it may soon be time to see what he can do at higher levels. Could a promotion to Single-A Frederick follow the All-Star game for Yaz?

"I'm not really sure yet," he said. "That is the goal, to keep moving. So I guess we'll see here in the next couple days."

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