SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In 2019, he proved he was a major leaguer. In 2020, he showed he can be a star.
In 2021, can Mike Yastrzemski demonstrate he is a standout in the field, too?
The only facet in which the late-bloomer didn’t excel last season involved his glove, especially with his work in center field. His negative-3 outs above average in center ranked him third worst in baseball, according to Statcast, and his last look in center came Aug. 28, with Mauricio Dubon taking over the position from there.
The Giants have not shored up the position, importing only the unproven LaMonte Wade Jr., whom the team has said projects more as a corner outfielder. Behind Dubon could be Steven Duggar and Jaylin Davis, who haven’t proven they have the bat, and a couple of question marks concerning whether they have the glove (Yastrzemski, Austin Slater).
The 30-year-old knows his defense lagged, and he’s trying to address it early in spring training.
“There are a few plays that I should have made that I ended up not making, whether it be circumstantial or whether it was just a lapse of focus,” Yastrzemski said Monday after the first full-squad workout at Scottsdale Stadium. “I think really focusing on finishing plays during batting practice, so instead of going out there and taking 10-to-15 reps of half-hearted effort and saying, ‘Oh, I can go make this play and just jogging at it,’ take it like game reps. Really focusing on each one of those and maybe minimizing those, so the focus is very intense.”
Yastrzemski scores better in right field, though he says he’s comfortable anywhere, which is to be expected for a player who was buried in the minors for so long. His ascension to stardom is a surreal one — he received MVP votes last year — but his solving the Giants’ lefty-bat-in-center-field problem would be just another gift he could give to the team.
“I think Yaz was a better defender last year than some have given him credit for,” Gabe Kapler said over Zoom. “In particular, I think he got good jumps and took pretty good routes to the baseball.”
Kapler echoed Yastrzemski’s focus on increased concentration and suggested the Giants would have to monitor his workload so they aren’t relying too heavily upon a bat who slashed .297/.400/.568 last season. Yastrzemski is a rarity on the platoon-heavy club because he can be used against lefties and righties.
Before his late-season calf injury last year, Yastrzemski had played in all 49 Giants games. With a full schedule this year, Kapler said it might be worth targeting 145 or 150 rather than 162.
He’ll have an old pal with him throughout, Vanderbilt buddy and former Red Curt Casali now with the Giants and the two again living together nearby the park.
He’ll have the same hitting coaches back, Yastrzemski among the loudest proponents of the work Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind do, saying the trio “don’t believe in comfort training” and are planning to challenge him and the rest of the Giants’ hitting group. In further developing his pitch-selection skills, Yastrzemski’s walk rate jumped from 7.8 in 2019 to 13.3 in 2020.
Defensively, Yastrzemski was among the outfielders to catch tennis balls hit by Giants coaches — off rackets — as a warmup drill Monday. Kapler said it was a way for the group to be creative, the newness of it ensuring it keeps the players interested and competitive.
Yastrzemski was running hard.
— KNBR (@KNBR) February 22, 2021