Yelich aims to build on strong 2015 finish

Yelich aims to build on strong 2015 finish

JUPITER, Fla. -- Christian Yelich saved his best for last in 2015. The 24-year-old left fielder showed resiliency, battled through an early-season back ailment as well as a slow start and ended up being one of just 11 National League players to post at least a .300 batting average.

Entering his third full big league season and fourth total, Yelich is aiming to put everything together from start to finish. To do so, staying healthy will be a big factor.

"It's just nice to finish off the year on a good note and take it into the offseason," Yelich said. "You try to build on it. Keep the progress that you made and improve further.

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"Most importantly is staying healthy. I want to be out there for all the games this year. I kind of had problems with that the last two years, but I think I've kind of got a hold of that. Build on what we did last year. I think that goes with a lot of guys."

Yelich served two disabled-list stints a year ago, first with a lower back strain (April 24-May 8), and then he missed time do to a bruised right knee in mid-August .

The injuries limited him to 126 games. The more he played, the better he did, and his slash line ended up .300/.366/.416.

"I think he's going to be a great player," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's a very good player right now. He's already won a Gold Glove. I still think he's going to continue to grow, continue to get better. He's just a big part of our core group of guys."

Yelich's sparkling glove in 2015

Twice in two seasons Yelich has dealt with a lower back issue. It also landed him on the disabled list in June 2014. But last June is when Yelich starting finding his swing and stride.

Considering his track record, Yelich and the Marlins knew it was a matter of time before he heated up.

He hit just .200 in April and .231 in May, before picking things up in June, when he hit .287.

After the All-Star break, Yelich caught fire, hitting .342. Only Cincinnati's Joey Votto (.362) and Arizona's David Peralta (.360) had higher batting averages in the National League after the All-Star break.

Dee Gordon, who won the batting title with a .333 average, hit .327 in the second half.

Along with being a pure hitter, the Marlins envision Yelich someday bolstering his power numbers. He hit seven homers and drove in 44 runs last season, and he has 20 homers in 332 big league games.

"It's in there," Mattingly said. "My experience in the past is when you try to force it, you get in trouble. If you just let a guy mature, he's a very good hitter. You start with that, and let the power come through the swing."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.