General | Professional | 11/16/2018

Yelich, Betts earn 1st MVPs

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Christian Yelich (Perfect Game)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts arrived in the same place Thursday night – a special position of high acclaim – after starting their baseball journeys in two distinctly different parts of the country.

Yelich is a 6-foot-3, 195-pound left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing outfielder from Thousand Oaks, Calif., in Los Angeles County, a Southern California kid who will celebrate his 27th birthday on Dec. 5. Betts is a 5-foot-9, 180-pound right-handed hitting and throwing outfielder from the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, Tenn., a southern kid who turned 26 on Oct. 7.

But look beyond the geography and it’s evident that Yelich and Betts are a great deal alike, and despite being raised a thousand miles apart they’ve become brothers among baseball’s elite. These two terrific athletes, who were in attendance at several Perfect Game events within a year or two of one another less than a decade ago, have been named the Most Valuable Players of their respective MLB leagues.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Yelich and the Boston Red Sox’s Betts received MVP recognition in the National and American leagues, respectively, in voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA); the awards are the first for both young stars.

Christian Yelich received 29 of the 30 first-place votes and one second-place vote from the BBWAA panelists, and his 415 points were enough to easily out-distance runner-up Javier Baez (250) from the Cubs and third-place Nolan Arenado (203) from the Rockies. All three of the finalists put up numbers in 2018 that may have been good enough to win the award in just about any other year.

This marks the seventh time since 2010 that the NL MVP enjoyed a history with Perfect Game. Yelich joins Joey Votto (2010), Buster Posey (2012), Andrew McCutchen (2013), Clayton Kershaw (2014), Bryce Harper (2015) and Kris Bryant (2016) in the exclusive club.

Yelich slashed .326/.409/.598 with a 1.000 OPS and 343 total bases, and his batting average, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases all led the National League. He had 77 extra-base hits (36 HRs, 7 triples, 34 doubles), drove in 110 runs and scored 118.

His home run total tied him with the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter for third best in the league and his 110 RBI was good enough for a second-place tie with Arenado, behind only Baez’s 111.

Yelich was particularly productive in the second half, including a .370/.508/.804 slash-line in September when the Brewers charged to the NL Central Division championship. In the Brewers final 74 regular-season games, he had 25 home runs, 22 doubles and a 1.171 OPS.

“I definitely exceeded my own expectations,” Yelich told MLB.com. “We came into the All-Star Game in a tough spot (with a six-game losing streak). I think the four days to enjoy the game, enjoy the experience, kind of helped me get a reset. … Down the stretch, every game matters. It brings out the best in you.”

A 2010 graduate of Westlake High School in Westlake Village, Yelich attended 10 PG events in 2008-09, including the 2009 PG National Showcase and a pair showcases in 2008 that are now known as the PG Junior National and the PG Underclass All-American Games.

He was at both the PG 18u and 17u WWBA National Championships in 2009 and was in Jupiter, Fla., with the ABD Bulldogs for the PG WWBA World Championship in both ’08 and ’09. The Bulldogs won the Jupiter championship in 2008 led by Yelich and another young top prospect by the name of Nolan Arenado.

The Florida Marlins made Yelich a first-round pick (No. 23 overall) in the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft right out of Westlake High and he made his big-league debut with the Marlins in July 2013. He was traded to the Brewers in January in exchange for four minor league prospects, including 2013 PG All-American Monte Harrison.

Baez and Arenado both have notable PG pasts. Baez, a first-round pick of the Cubs in 2011 who made his big-league debut three years later, was rostered at eight events in 2010, including the PG All-American Classic and PG National Showcase. Arenado, a second-round pick of the Rockies in 2009, was rostered at nine events in 2007-08, including the 2008 PG National Showcase, three other prominent showcase appearances and five PG WWBA tournaments.

Mookie Betts, just like Yelich, had to fight back two other deserving finalists to win his first AL MVP Award, but did so convincingly in the end. He grabbed 28 of the 30 first-place votes and two second-place votes, to finish with 410 points, well ahead of the Angels’ Mike Trout (265) and the Indians’ Jose Ramirez (208).

Betts finished as runner-up to Trout in the 2016 AL MVP balloting. He becomes the third PG alumnus to win the AL MVP Award, joining Trout (2014, ’16) and Josh Donaldson (2015).

Hitting in the leadoff spot in the World Champion Red Sox’s order, Betts produced a .346/.438/.640 slash-line in 2018 with an OPS of 1.078; his batting average and slugging percentage were tops in the AL. He totaled 84 extra-base hits (32 HRs, 5 3Bs, 47 2Bs) with 80 RBI, a league-high 129 runs and 30 stolen bases.

In his fourth full major league season, Betts became a three-time All-Star while also winning his third straight Rawlings Gold Glove Award as a right-fielder.

“It means a lot,” Betts told MLB.com of winning the MVP. “It’s definitely a special award and something that I cherish, but I think the most important thing is that we won a World Series and got to bring a trophy back to Boston.”

Betts was rostered at both the 2011 PG 18u WWBA National Championship and PG 18u BCS Finals playing with the Memphis-based Dulins Dodgers. He was a fifth-round selection of the Red Sox in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Nashville’s Overton Comprehensive High School.

This marks the fifth time in six years that Trout has finished in the top-two in the AL MVP voting (he was 4th in ’17), winning the award in ’14 and ’16. He slashed .312/.460/.628 with a league and career-high 1.088 OPS (the .460 OBP was also an AL-high), hit 39 home runs, drove in 79 runs, scored 101 others and finished with a league-high 122 walks.

Trout, who enjoyed a stellar prep career at Millville (N.J.) High School, played in eight Perfect Game WWBA tournaments in 2007-08 with the New Jersey-based Tri-State Arsenal, including stops at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., each of those two years.

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