ESR Interview: Willy Yahn “Just Tries to Win”

Willy Yahn is an infielder drafted by the Orioles in the 25th round of the 2017 draft. He is currently playing for High-A Frederick, where he is hitting .306/.317/.488 in 32 games. He was kind enough to sit down with ESR’s Matt Pyne for an interview. Listen or read the transcript below.

Matt: So Willy, you were a standout at UConn, did you ever get a chance to meet George Springer? I know you probably didn’t get a chance to play with him.

Willy Yahn: Yeah, I met him a few times, he came and visited the UConn guys for one day each year to say “Hi” and to Coach Penders and a bunch of people on the team. I actually played with the same…the first time I met him was with my travel ball team, because he played on the same team in Connecticut (the travel ball team). He came back right after he got drafted in 2011 to talk to us and I might have been 14 (years old) and that was the first time I met him. He’s always been a great guy.

Matt: So you got a chance to play in the Cape Cod League, just describe your experience there. Do you think the wood bats prepared you for the minor leagues?

Yahn: Yeah, definitely. Well, first of all, playing the Cape Cod League was one of my favorite experiences playing baseball so far. It was an absolute blast. The tradition that they have up there at the league, playing at the high school fields, the same fields they were playing at like 30-40 years ago was awesome and I think that was really where I learned to handle a wood bat. The year before I played in the Perfect Game League and was kind of iffy with a wood bat and didn’t have a great (batting) average (and I) turned it around towards the end. But then, in the Cape it really forced me (to realize) you’ve gotta figure it out with such quality pitching you’re facing. It’s kind of a pitcher’s league, so to be able to have success, with a wood bat in such a quality league kinda gave me confidence toward the draft the following year.

Matt: So speaking of the draft, you were drafted in the 25th Round and not too many players make it to the big leagues after the 10th Round. Does this make you hungrier to succeed?

Yahn: I think so, I mean to me if you have any chance, it’s a matter of what you do with it regardless of where you get picked. For circumstances out of my control, I got drafted that late. I broke my hand, I was a junior, not a senior, so I was able to…I had some leeway, because I could’ve gone back for my senior year. So all those factors aside, I ended up in the 25th Round. I wasn’t worried about it at all, I was just excited to have my name called…so I’m just going to try to take care of business and get better every year.

Matt: You’re currently experiencing your best professional season; have you made any adjustments, whether in the offseason or during the season to change your approach or mechanics?

Yahn: I think it was kind of in the works last year towards the end of the season in Aberdeen. I was hitting balls hard, but I was still was getting out of the ‘chopping the wood’ technique swing, which produces a lot of line drives and helps the (batting) average. I kind of just needed…at any position you gotta have some power numbers, which I didn’t have my first two seasons. I just tried to level out my swing, not swing upright or anything like that, but just get on plane with the ball and stay in the zone longer and get some backspin on those balls. I guess that’s the mechanical thing and I’m still working on it, but I’m just trying to see the pitches up and not chase balls in the dirt and stuff like that. I still have a low walk rate, but it’s just (about) getting pitches I can handle and do damage with.

Matt: What about the role your coaches have played? I know your manager here is Ryan Minor, obviously who has big league experience…what’s the role your coaches have played here and at other affiliates?

Yahn: The managers I’ve had so far with the Orioles have been great. To start with, (Ryan) Minor, he’s a really great guy, he’s very calm in the dugout, he’ll lean back and let you have your fun. But he’ll go to bat for you with umpires, backing you up in certain situations, so he’s a great guy to play for and he’s given me a lot of opportunities to get out there, especially early in the year this season when I wasn’t playing quite as much as I am now. And then I had Kyle Moore last year, he was great. He’s kind of a quiet presence in the dugout, but was always engaged with the team and having team meetings and going over things as a group instead of pointing out things individually to guys. I loved playing under him…we finished out the Aberdeen season last year real strong. Then I had Carlos Tosca in the GCL, he’s one of the favorite manager I ever had. He’s a really old school guy. He just wants you to play hard and give your best every single time out there and he’s going to love you…so I’ve been really lucky so far.

Matt: What are your thoughts on the new technology that’s been introduced? BlastMotion has been put on all the bats for all the affiliates, what’s your impression as to how it’s helped so far?

Yahn: At first, I was very skeptical. I wasn’t sure if it was going to bode well in my favor, because I don’t know anything about the swing analytics and all that stuff.

Matt: Intimidating in a sense?

Yahn: For sure, yeah because you don’t know anything about it. Even some of the coaches say, “I don’t really know what some of the stuff means.” So it’s kind of a learning curve for everybody top to bottom of the organization, but its good information. It’s really going to help me as a player figure out certain things that I need to do mechanically and to continue to get stronger to get those TrackMan numbers up. So, it’s pretty cool, it’s part of the new wave and I’m going to implement some of that stuff and also stick to some of the old things that have worked in the past.

Matt: Actually I had to chance to talk with Sig Mejdal, the new Assistant GM, and he said, “It’s the players that really embrace it are the ones we can help.” So getting off baseball a little bit…Favorite thing to do when you’re not playing baseball?

Yahn: I like to go for hike, because it is good exercise and if you find the right spot you can get a great view.

Matt: Are you into video games at all?

Yahn: Ehh, I played a little of MLB The Show, but that’s about it.

Matt: Favorite TV Show?

Yahn: I just started Brockmire. It’s actually a great show. But also Family Guy, I’ve been a huge Family Guy fan for the past 10 years.

Matt: Walkup song?

Yahn: I try to go with all old school stuff. Last year I have ‘Your Love’ by The Outfield, this year is ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ by Queen, and then when I was at UConn, I had Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker…all those guys.

Matt: I know the travel in the Minors can be rough (filled with bus trips). What do you do to pass the time?

Yahn: I’ve gotten very good at sleeping…cars, buses, planes…I’ve figured out how to sleep in those. I sleep a lot…we do play a lot of cards on the bus, on bus rides too, so we do get a lot of types of card games going, but I do get very good sleep. You have to get good at it.

Matt: What’s your favorite road city/stadium that you’ve been to so far?

Yahn: Oh that’s a good question. That’s tough, we’ve played at a couple really cool ones. I think going and playing in New York City at Staten Island and we had the skyline of New York City in centerfield and they were playing ‘God Bless America,’ looking at the flag…I was like, I can get used to this stadium. That’s one, but I guess there’s a couple that kind of stand out.

Matt: What are some goals you set for yourself, if any?

Yahn: I’ve said this to my teammates, some of them think I’m crazy, but some of them love it, you know? Every day I just try to win. You know what I mean? I’m just trying to win games and if you focus on that and focus on getting on base and touching home plate, however you can do that best, then everything else can take care of itself.

Matt: I think that’s the perfect attitude. The new (Orioles) manger Brandon Hyde instills that in the young guy. We see what Delmarva is doing, I think they have the best record in the minor leagues. I think that kind of mentality is going to bring you success with this new regime. Last question for you, what are your thoughts on the Orioles rebuild? Does this offer more opportunities for the minor league players?

Yahn: Yeah, I guess so. You never want to see the big league team that you’re playing underneath do as poorly as they did last year. But it does definitely give some opportunities for guys, especially…it’s exciting because we’re getting the draft class of 2017-on. These next couple of draft classes have a lot of opportunity these next couple years to move up quickly, get a lot of playing time in Spring Training, play with the big league team in the next couple years and just show that we have what it takes to win, you know? We’re ballplayers that care about winning and we’re going to show our tools to let them know that we’re going to take care of business.

Matt: Obviously the #1 pick this year, so you may end up playing with that guy. It could be Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt, or Andrew Vaughn.

Yahn: It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

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