Miami Marlins

Marlins’ Christian Yelich ‘excited’ about starting fresh in 2016

Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich, center, is slated to hit third in the lineup, behind center fielder Marcell Ozuna and in front of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, left. Yelich hit .298 in the No. 3 spot in 43 games last year and had three homers and 15 RBI.
Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich, center, is slated to hit third in the lineup, behind center fielder Marcell Ozuna and in front of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, left. Yelich hit .298 in the No. 3 spot in 43 games last year and had three homers and 15 RBI. pportal@elnuevoherald.com

The Marlins banned facial hair this spring, inspiring some social media wisecracks from at least one former player.

“I saw the Marlins banned facial hair,” former pitcher Dan Haren tweeted at left fielder Christian Yelich on Feb. 21. “Good thing you can’t grow any yet. Ha.”

Yelich, 24, has often been teased by his teammates about his baby-face looks.

On a trip to face the Mets last September, the team arranged a surprise visit from Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson, who, like Yelich, doesn’t really grow facial hair.

While Yelich’s boyish appearance hasn’t changed over the past few months, the second-youngest player on the Marlins’ roster enters his third full season in the majors ready to show everyone he’s all grown up.

“Whether it’s a good year or bad year, 2016 is a fresh start for me,” Yelich said. “My finish [to last season] was fun, but it has no bearing on this coming season. I think we’re all excited for a fresh start.”

Touted for a couple of years now as part of what could be the most dynamic young outfield in baseball, Yelich, along with his outfield mates, 25-year-old center fielder Marcell Ozuna and 26-year-old All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, are each aiming for bounce-back seasons.

Yelich, who signed a seven-year, $49.57 million contract extension last year following his Gold Glove 2014 campaign in which he hit .284 with nine home runs and 54 RBI, intrigues many in particular as to what kind of hitter and player he will become.

Yelich is set to hit third in the lineup after Dee Gordon and Ozuna and in front of Stanton — likely a prime RBI-producing spot.

Yelich hit .298 while batting third in 43 games last season and had three home runs and 15 RBI. He hit .340 while in the second spot in 50 games last year with only one home run and 19 RBI and walked 27 times.

“Christian has had success already,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I think it’s a matter of how much better is he going to get and is he going to continue to grow and develop as far as strength and power at the plate.”

The Marlins are hoping to get more run production out of him this season.

While he hasn’t been a power hitter so far in his career, managing only seven home runs last season, his RBI total of 44 was seventh-fewest among all major-league outfielders with at least 440 at-bats.

Yelich also hit just .243 with runners in scoring position last season, which ranked sixth on the team among players with at least 77 such at-bats.

But he did hit .300 overall for the first time in his career last season and was one of 11 players in the National League who averaged .300 or higher, including Gordon, who won the league’s batting title.

Yelich isn’t dwelling on that achievement even though it marked a notable turnaround following a dismal start.

Yelich spent 18 days on the disabled list with a herniated disc in April and was hitting only .178 by May 22.

Once healthy, he began to turn it around and posted a .342 batting average with a .392 on-base percentage during the second half of the season.

“It doesn’t mean a whole lot now,” Yelich said. “Last season really means nothing. It’s time to go out there and do it all over again. It’s a whole new season.”

Despite his early hitting woes, Yelich’s defensive skills didn’t diminish. He finished with a rating of plus-11 in total zone total fielding runs average for the second consecutive season — a ranking that was second in the majors to Yoenis Cespedes’ plus-17.

Yelich has also been reliable in getting on base consistently and spreading the ball to all fields.

Last season, Yelich finished 13th overall in on-base percentage in the National League, which was even higher than Gordon.

His range and glove in the outfield is also something the Marlins are counting on.

Yelich’s 20 home runs in his first three seasons — 17 of which have come away from Marlins Park — is also a facet of his game that Mattingly thinks will come with experience.

“I feel like he’s going to hit for power some day; I just don’t know when that day will be,” Mattingly said. “Is it going to be five years from now, or two or three years from now? Our battle with that is just continue to hit, continue to improve and not force trying to hit home runs because that’s gotten a lot of guys in trouble.

“It can happen for him quickly, but it just has to develop over time.”

COMING UP

▪ Friday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez vs. New York Yankees RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

▪ Saturday: Marlins TBA vs. Yankees RHP Luis Severino, 1:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

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