Jeremy Wu-Yelland just wanted to get back on the baseball diamond. The Red Sox’ 2020 fourth-round draft selection saw his season at the University of Hawaii come to an abrupt halt because of COVID-19. The lefthanded pitcher then saw the minor league season evaporate. His year, much like the world surrounding him, was governed by uncertainty.
So when the 21-year-old finally felt some sense of normalcy during instructional league, he savored the moment.
“It was great to be back on a baseball field,” Wu-Yelland said recently by phone. “That was a big part, just being able to do something during this time.”
Wu-Yelland endured more than a six-month layoff from seeing live hitters. Any time a player tries to get reacclimated after such a break, it requires some sort of progression. But under these circumstances, that holds especially true.
“It took a couple weeks to [find a rhythm], and being out there again was a big part of that,” Wu-Yelland said. “The Red Sox did a good job building us up and making sure we’re ready to go.
“It’s a bit of a curve, and it goes up pretty quick. After my first few days out there, it felt like I got my feet back under me.”
Wu-Yelland made four appearances, easing his way to a maximum of 55 pitches and 2-3 innings. Wu-Yelland’s electric arm was on display during his outings, in which he topped out at 97 miles per hour. Red Sox scouting director Paul Toboni saw it first-hand, adding that he sat comfortably at 95-96.
“The fastball plays at least plus,” said Toboni, who also noted that Wu-Yelland has an elite slider and throws an elite changeup when he goes to it. “There’s significant promise there.”
Wu-Yelland really piqued the Sox’ interest while playing in the Cape Cod League. In the summer of 2019, he tossed 25⅔ innings, striking out 26 and posting a 3.15 ERA. His big arm was on display, but now, the next step in Wu-Yelland’s development lies in his ability to not rely just on his power.
“I think he’s going to have to figure out how to throttle back a little bit,” Toboni said. “Because he’s so powerful and so competitive right now. It’s just go, go, go.
“But he’s got such good stuff. I think if he can just throttle it back a little bit, he’s going to be really, really good.”
There’s a fine line, of course. Oftentimes it’s hard for younger pitchers to strike that balance between power and touch. In Wu-Yelland’s case, he recognizes that the middle ground would allow him to tap into his potential.
“I think it goes both ways,” Wu-Yelland said. “Most of my pitching career, I’ve been told that my stuff is so good that it’s hard to hit. With that being said, I have to fill up the zone, get ahead of guys, and put myself in a position to keep guys off-balance or uncomfortable.”
But throttling it back is better than not having the luxury to do so.
“I’d have that problem, then, you know, guys hitting me too much,” he said.
Wu-Yelland is hopeful that a minor league season is ahead of him. With minor leaguers losing a year of development, Wu-Yelland understands that pitching in live games is the ultimate test. It’s something he’s up for.
“I’m more excited just to get working and see how I actually perform,” he said.