After struggling to find his swing at rookie ball in 2016, the 19-year-old Andy Yerzy hit .298 with a .365 on base percentage in his first season with the Rookie-Advanced Missoula Osprey.
The highlight for the Canadian native at the plate this season was his 22-game hit streak from July 20-Aug 23. It was the longest hit streak this season in the Pioneer League.
In addition, Yerzy tied for sixth in the Pioneer League in home runs with 13.
Below is my conversation with Yerzy.
Q: How would you evaluate your 2017 season?
A: I had a pretty good year. I had a rough start at the beginning of year, but I am hoping to finish out strong. I had a really good middle of the season, in July and August, and hoping that I can just keep it up in September and (in the) playoffs.
Q: This past offseason, did you do anything different to become a better hitter?
A: I think it is really just my mindset at the plate. I am looking to do a little bit more damage and just put better swings on my pitches. Last year, I chased a lot of pitches that weren’t great hitters pitches and was worried about making contact versus striking out. I still don’t like to strikeout, but I know now I shouldn’t waste an at-bat on the first few pitches, and I know that if I fall behind, I can still put a good swing on a pitch late in the count.
Q: How has using your lower half more allowed you to make better contact at the plate?
A: I think the lower half is more power for me. You don’t want to try to create power with your upper body, so really just getting into your legs. The contact part is, like I said before, swinging at pitches that I know I can handle.
Q: During your hitting streak, did the baseball look like a beach ball?
A: I probably would not have known I was on a hit streak to be honest. I want to get a hit every at-bat I go up there. So it is kind of me reaping the benefits of all my hard work and putting good swings on pitches I know I can handle and driving them.
Q: Where did your power come from?
A: I think it came over time. When I was younger, I was more of a hitter, average wise. As I got older, I got bigger. Once I hit high school, around my sophomore year, it was just a matter of time for me to hit the ball in the air more and the power started coming naturally.
Q: What is your approach when teams shift you to pull the ball?
A: I try and not think about it to be honest. They can put infielders where ever they want to be honest. My goal at the plate and my plan every time is to drive the ball in the air for an extra base hit. Whether that happens and I hit it over them, that happens, or sometimes if I am a little bit late, I hit a groundball in the six-hole for a single or I am late and I hit it down the lane. My approach never changes regardless of a shift. I always want to drive a ball somewhere, mostly to the middle of the field.
Q: In June of 2015, you said in an article you wanted to get better at your footwork and movement behind the plate. Do you think you have improved in those areas?
A: I think my bat is a little bit ahead of my defense. I definitely feel more comfortable than last year. But, I think part of that is just getting reps at this level with guys of this caliber. But it is all a work in progress. My hitting is never going to be where I want to be because I am always working to get better, and the same thing for defense.
Q: How have you gotten better at preventing passed balls? I know you struggled with that in rookie ball.
A: It is the same thing, just getting comfortable and more reps. It is just learning what pitches certain guys like to throw, the movement and where and when they like to throw it.
Q: Do you do anything different when you’re facing a right- or left-hander?
A: It is the same approach. But against lefties, I get about a half a step more off the plate than I do with righties. Just because if they miss arm side, it is going to leak right to the inside corner, so me stepping that extra step off the plate allows me to get the inside fastball better and turn on it.
Q: Who was your favorite team growing up?
A: I had season tickets to Blue Jays games growing up, and my dad still does. I spent a fair amount of time at the Rogers Centre watching the Blue Jays play.
Q: Any favorite players growing up? Guys you idolized?
A: When I was younger, it was Joe Mauer and David Wright. They were just really classy guys and good players. I tried to model myself after Joe Mauer a little bit – just left handed hitting catcher. David Wright was always my favorite player going up. Everything was really easy for him. As time has gone on, I really like the way Bryce Harper plays too.
Q: What do you think the state of Canadian baseball is?
A: I definitely think it is on the rise. I played three years in the junior national team program, and Greg Hamilton does a great job running that. This year we had two second rounders. Last year, we had a first rounder and me in the second round. The year before that, we had two first rounders and countless guys getting drafted later. We can compete with the Americans. We can compete with the best in the world. Even the Canadian guys that are committing to colleges, it is no longer just small northeastern schools.
Q: How important is it to have high profile guys from Canada, Freddie Freeman and Joey Votto, to help the younger players see ‘oh yah, I can play professional baseball.’
A: It is huge because me growing up, it was Justin Morneau and Russell Martin. Guys like Joey Votto, Morneau and Martin putting Canada on the map, there Canadian big leaguers and kids know that and they are striving to be like them.