Mike Yastrzemski starring for Giants after getting big league chance

Alex Pavlovic
NBC Sports BayArea

SAN FRANCISCO -- A prominent member of the Giants organization watched Mike Yastrzemski take batting practice one day last week and shook his head. His eyes grew wide and he held up one finger. 

"The Orioles couldn't give him one at-bat? Just one at-bat?" he exclaimed. 

It's a good question, one they should be asking regularly in the front office at Camden Yards. It's one Yastrzemski struggled with for years as he toiled away in the upper minors for an organization with little talent at the big league level.

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"That's a question I asked myself a lot and it drove me crazy for a little while," Yastrzemski said. "I honestly, I don't know, and I let go of it. I stopped trying to figure out what happened, what went wrong. Now that I've had a chance here it's just a weight off my shoulders that I don't even have to have in the back of my head anymore. It doesn't matter anymore to me."

Six years after the Orioles took him in the 14th round out of Vanderbilt, Yastrzemski has traded Baltimore's orange and black for the San Francisco version. The results have helped keep the Giants in the postseason race and altered the future potential of their outfield. 

At 28, Yastrzemski has broken through. After never hitting more than 15 homers in the minors for the Orioles, he has 16 since getting promoted to the big leagues May 25. If Yastrzemski had enough at-bats to qualify for NL leaderboards, his .874 OPS would rank him 17th, just ahead of Bryce Harper and Javier Baez, among others. 

Yastrzemski seemed to be a nice find in the first half, a player who handled all facets of the game well and could maybe be a bench outfielder moving forward. But he has turned into a star since the All-Star break and the days shortly after when the Giants briefly considered a demotion to Triple-A. Yastrzemski has 11 homers since the break and is slugging .662, ranking second among rookies in both stats. His 1.5 Wins Above Replacement over the last five weeks rank him third in a loaded rookie class. 

Yastrzemski is older than the rest in the class because it took so long to get his shot. He has nearly 3,000 plate appearances in the minors but reached Double-A in 2014 and Triple-A in 2016. Yastrzemski bounced back and forth between the two levels for several years. There were times when the stats certainly seemed to merit a big league look for the struggling Orioles, (who picked first in this year's draft).

Yastrzemski had a .832 OPS and 15 homers across two levels in 2017. Last year he had a .801 OPS and nine homers in 94 Triple-A games, but the call never came. The Giants did, however, come calling in the offseason, as Yastrzemski spent time working on swing changes with former Vanderbilt teammates. 

Ask people within the organization how they found Yastrzemski and they'll point right at Farhan Zaidi. He targeted the outfielder as soon as he took the job in November, and the Giants finally traded right-hander Tyler Herb to Baltimore on March 23, getting a deal done. 

Herb has a 6.43 ERA in the minors this season. Yastrzemski currently is Bruce Bochy's leadoff hitter and is under team control for six seasons. 

[RELATED: Giants top prospect Bart to play in Arizona Fall League]

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, the outfielder talked about the changes that helped get him here and the opportunity the Giants have given him. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

The Giants have struck gold, as Zaidi did in Los Angeles with guys like Chris Taylor and Max Muncy. All it took was someone finally giving Yastrzemski a chance. 

Mike Yastrzemski starring for Giants after getting big league chance originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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