Marlins' Yelich, Perio Showing Promise In Low Class A

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For one afternoon, the eyes of the greater baseball world turned to a game in the low Class A South Atlantic League. They turned up to see Stephen Strasburg make his first rehab start on Aug. 7 with Hagerstown, paying little mind to the team in the other dugout, the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

Though they may have been relegated to the role of Strasburg's faceless opponents, the Grasshoppers boast a couple of young hitters who've been worth watching in their own right in left fielder Christian Yelich and second baseman Noah Perio.

Yelich came in as the more well known of the two, having been the 23rd overall pick by the Marlins in last year's draft out of a California high school. The 19-year-old held his own early on, batting .261/.351/.394 through the end of May, but the jump to full-season meant there was some work to do.

Yelich didn't need an overhaul by any means. He's a natural hitter who's been lauded for his grinder mentality. A lefthanded hitter, he combines the bat speed to generate average raw power with a feel for the strike zone that belies his age.

"Everything you look for in a hitter, he does those things and he can repeat them," Greensboro manager Andy Haines said. "He's in a good position to hit all the time. Good balance. He's just a very polished offensive player."

Still, the Marlins worked on getting him to incorporate his lower half more effectively. He was also having issues with starting his swing too late, allowing pitchers with good fastballs to beat him. Since Yelich has improved in those areas and acclimated himself to the level of competition and everyday grind, he's been one of the league's toughest hitters.

Since the start of June, Yelich has batted .336/.391/.505 in 214 at-bats, the third best average in the SAL over that span. On the season, he's improved to .303/.374/.456 with 11 homers in 379 at-bats, ranking him fifth in the league batting race.

Yelich has shown he's not just a difference maker at the plate. A first baseman in high school, he has been deployed in the outfield with Greensboro and has made a smooth transition.

"He's a surprisingly good athlete," Haines said. "I think the word on him when we got him was that he's just an offensive player. I think everyone's been surprised at how well he's played in the outfield."

He gets good reads off the bat, and the long strides of his 6-foot-4 frame have made him a solid left fielder as well as earned him some time in center. That athleticism has translated on the basepaths as well, where Yelich is 27-for-31 stealing bases, a success rate that he owes to both his speed and instincts.

Batting two spots in front of Yelich has been Perio, serving as Greensboro's leadoff man for much of the year. The 19-year-old was a sought-after football recruit in high school, causing him to slip to the 39th round of the 2009 draft. The Marlins signed him for a $150,000 bonus.

Perio held his own as an 18-year-old in the short-season New York-Penn League last year, batting .258/.313/.302, and he has hit well all year in his first tour of full-season ball. He hit .269 in April but has batted at least .297 in each month since, currently residing at .305/.336/.398 for the year. His power has slowly picked up the pace as well.

"We all knew he had a chance to be a good offensive player," Haines said. "I think the question was how he was going to hold up over his first full season."

Perio had just five extra-base hits in April and May combined, a span of 159 plate appearances—good for a .338 slugging percentage. He's slugged .434 in 257 plate appearances since the start of June, and Haines believes Perio's power should keep picking up as he gets older.

The 6-foot, 170-pound Perio won't be a major home run threat by any means, but he owns 21 doubles and three triples this year, and Haines sees him having the hand strength to turn some of those line drives into homers once he gets stronger.

"It's been a challenge for him to keep his weight on during the season," Haines said. "It's still just a very young body. With the way the ball comes off his bat, there's certainly going to be some power there. He's going to be an offensive second baseman.

"He shows raw power in batting practice. It's pretty easy to see there's more in there."

Perio has a loose, simple lefthanded swing with the ability to keep his bat in the hitting zone a long time. Haines felt the area Perio has improved the most has been his two-strike approach, as he's demonstrated the ability to shorten up and make adjustments, having struck out just 51 times in 387 at-bats on the year.

On the flip side, Perio's drawn just 17 walks all seasonless than ideal for a leadoff hitter. But while Perio could stand to see some more pitches, Haines said the team didn't want to take away from his aggressiveness at this point in his development.

"He picks his spots in the game where he knows he needs to see some pitches," Haines said. "There are certain situations he can be aggressive and be himself, and that's his (modus operandi). He's aggressive and he's ready to hit."

Perio's offense is ahead of his defense at this point, as he's made 21 errors. He made a position switch of his own this year, going from shortstop to second base, a move precipitated by his arm strength. He still takes infield at shortstop, but the team didn't want to put too much on his plate in his first full year.

As for their confrontations with one of the best arms in baseball, Perio led off the game against Strasburg and struck out. No shame in that. But two batters later, Yelich came to the plate and poked a Strasburg fastball into right field for a single.

"Strasburg actually started (Yelich) off with a changeup," Haines said. "He took it. He took some tough pitches off of him that were balls, then he hit a base hit into right, a ground ball through the right side."

It might be awhile before he gets to add to this total, but for now Yelich can say he's 1-for-1batting 1.000against Strasburg.