Carl Yastrzemski was an MVP candidate and an All-Star by the time he was 23 years old. His journey through the minor leagues was not the most arduous process we've ever seen; he batted .379 in 1959, hit .339 in 1960 after moving up to Boston's AAA team, and never looked back.
The same can't be said for his grandson, Mike Yastrzemski, who spent time in MiLB from 2013 to 2019, constantly moving up and down through different levels of competition and finding varying levels of success. Now, he's sitting pretty atop the National League in a number of statistical categories, including runs scored, triples and walks, all wrapped up neatly with an eye-popping .293/.410/.612 slash line.
But he still remembers all those years of frustration that his grandpa never had to experience. In the most recent episode of the RADIO.COM Sports podcast "Big Time Baseball" hosted by insider Jon Heyman, the San Francisco Giants' breakout star dug deep into his journey to the show.
"I think I was probably frustrated every day," Yastrzemski told Heyman. "You know, the Minor Leagues is hard. You don’t get paid well, the travel’s not great, you’re either living with a host family... or you’re living in the apartment with five different guys, so there’s really no great way to look at it. Throughout that time I started playing GM. I started assuming what moves should be made and what should happen and... that was a mistake. That's a mental mistake. I can't influence those things. The only way I can influence them is by playing better."
His experience in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system only made matters worse for Yastrzemski, as the team's hitting philosophy did not align with the young, burgeoning prospect's way of doing things.
"When I was with the Orioles, I was... labeled as a guy who needed to swing A-to-B and have this kind of small, contact swing, and so I started just believing in it because that's what I thought was best," Yastrzemski said. "Make the organization happy, do what they say and you'll be going up, and (it) just never worked out that way.
"When I got to the Giants, the first thing that the hitting coordinator said to me was, he said he loved my swing and that he thinks I can do a lot of damage. And I was like, man, I haven't had someone tell me they love my swing since I was in college. That's awesome. And having that confidence and having him say something like that was so freeing that I was able to trust what I had been working on for the past four years on my own, that the Orioles told me I shouldn't be doing."
In fact, Yastrzemski shared that he was seen as "uncoachable," as the coaches would steer him away from trying out new techniques and instead stress that he should "work on what works."
"And I was like, well guys, clearly it doesn't work," Yastrzemski said. "I've been bouncing from AA to AAA for the past four years... I would really like to not do that again. And that's not how they saw it, and so I just kind of had somebody give me a little bit of confidence in my swing and say that they like where it's going, and we can kind of work toward the same goal there."
And boy, has his new swing been working. He batted .316 in AAA ball as soon as he joined the Giants, showing off a new-and-improved power stroke that carried into big league play. He clubbed 21 home runs in a partial season in 2019, and his .612 slugging percentage in 2020 is a top-ten figure in baseball to this point.
That power not only came with a new swing, but came with time, according to his Hall of Fame grandfather.
"My grandfather always told me that you need to be a good hitter first, and then you’ll eventually find your power when you get older," Yastrzemski said, mentioning that Carl would tell him that 28 was when he started hitting for power. "I don’t know if I believe him, but that’s actually when it started happening for me... he was probably just trying to make me feel good about myself but it ended up being the truth."
Carl Yastrzemski never hit more than 20 home runs until his age-27 campaign, the season in which he won the triple crown with 44 HR, 121 RBI and a .326 average. So, while 28 years old was just a bit of a stretch, his advice seems to have been reassuring and had a positive effect on his grandson. You can hear Carl talk more about his grandson here, when he joined 95.7 The Game in San Francisco.
A unique approach to the plate also helped Mike Yastrzemski get him to where he is now, and unexpected statistics presented to him by the Giants staff were useful in helping him come to a key realization. With two strikes on a batter, many would assume that the mindset is to avoid a strikeout at all costs. Yastrzemski originally thought the same way, until he learned that the usual leaders in strikeouts looking were guys like Mike Trout, Joey Votto and Mookie Betts.
"It's because those guys are the best hitters in the game and they have the best eyes in the game, and they're the most selective so they're always looking for a good pitch to hit, even with two strikes," Yastrzemski said. "So if you get a pitch that's a borderline ball, there's probably not a whole lot you're gonna do with it anyway. Maybe once in a while you'll poke a ball through the hole or maybe it's gonna be a different situation... but they're still looking for a good pitch to hit.
"So that kind of changed my outlook on things... I've always been told that striking out is bad but maybe it's really not. Maybe it's actually better than putting a ball in play and grounding into a double play."
With this newfound strategy in mind, Yastrzemski says he's become much more selective at the dish, and it's paid off big time. As I mentioned earlier, he leads the league in walks (23) as well as in runs created, adjusted batting runs, and adjusted batting wins -- all measures that look to evaluate a player's total offensive contribution.
It may have taken a little while to get here, but it looks as though Mike Yastrzemski has established himself as a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Listen below to hear more stories from Yastrzemski, including his decision to graduate from college and fulfill a promise to his father, how his parents have helped him get to this point, and more.