There's nothing but uncertainty right now for Major League Baseball, but whenever this season starts, there are some sure bets for the Giants.

It's pretty close to a lock that Mike Yastrzemski will be in the Opening Day lineup, and it's a pretty good bet that he'll be hitting at or near the top of the order every game when baseball resumes. 

Yastrzemski has become a household name for Giants fans, one of the few players they can feel comfortable relying on heading into this season, but a year ago at this time, he wasn't much different than the people clicking through depth charts and tweets and trying to figure out what the Giants were going to look like. 

Having spent six seasons in the minors already, Yastrzemski could read the writing on the wall last spring. He was not part of the future in Baltimore, and he spent his March trying to find a more desirable situation.

"I went down a rabbit hole of outfield depth charts, just kind of seeing where teams were and where they were strong and where they weren't," Yastrzemski said earlier this month. "I was just reading articles on where there were opportunities to play in the outfield. I was just constantly trying to put the thoughts out there that it was possible."

"At this point, I was probably researching every team in the world that needed outfielders and trying to find a way to convince either them to trade for me or for the Orioles to trade me. I was somehow trying to just find a way to get to an area where I knew that I had a little more of a chance."

 

As Yastrzemski did his research, he zeroed in on the Giants, and for good reason. Farhan Zaidi inherited an outfield with virtually no big-league talent in-house and the Giants ended up going with Connor Joe, Steven Duggar and Michael Reed on Opening Day.

Duggar was entering his second year and was unproven. Joe and Reed were very similar to Yastrzemski. All three were minor leaguers who had put up intriguing numbers in the upper levels but had not yet gotten a consistent chance -- "runway," Zaidi usually calls it -- to try and sink or swim at the big league level.

Yastrzemski knew he wasn't going to get that runway in Baltimore despite the fact that the Orioles had won just 47 games the year before. Yastrzemki had a .359 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage in 2018 in Triple-A, which fit in line with the rest of his minor league career. He was a solid outfielder, but he had never quite broken through with numbers that jumped off the page (his 21 homers last year were six more than his previous career-high for a season). Yastrzemki had spent three consecutive seasons in Double-A and Triple-A when he reported to camp in 2019.

The Orioles decided that the 27-year-old was just an organizational player. Yastrzemski, a 14th-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2013, said he didn't need to talk to any team execs or coaches last spring to know where he stood. He didn't want anybody giving him false hope, and he knew he was no longer in Baltimore's plans. 

"I knew that they were in a full rebuild mode and they weren't looking for somebody to kind of step up and help the team win at the time, they were looking to develop their players and guys that they had their sights on for the next 10 years," he said. "I felt like they didn't view me like that, even if I did."

The Giants couldn't have predicted Yastrzemski coming in and tying for the team lead in homers, but they liked his all-around game and felt he fit the mold of what they were looking for. Their own rebuild has been less glaring. This hasn't been a full teardown. Zaidi has spent most of his two years in San Francisco trying to find players who can supplement the wave of prospects that will arrive over the next few years, and Yastrzemski was a player he brought up early in conversations with other team execs after he took over in November of 2018. 

On this day a year ago, the Giants announced the minor deal that would have gone just about totally unnoticed had it not been for the famous last name of their newest player. They dealt Tyler Herb, a right-handed pitcher who had come over in the Chris Heston deal with the Mariners, to the Orioles. Yastrzemski was sent straight to minor league camp.

 

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After spending the spring looking for a big-league shot, Yastrzemski wasn't too discouraged when he was initially passed over by the Giants. A night before the trade, he had been talking to a friend who was designated for assignment elsewhere. Yastrzemski told him that all he wanted was to find his way to San Francisco. He knew that at some point there would be an opportunity there. That was all he wanted, a chance to prove he was a big leaguer. 

"I knew that they were going to give guys chances," he said. "It all depended on who played well and who didn't. I just wanted to show up here and play well in front of new eyes."