Monday, July 19, 2010

Delmon Young is Finally Becoming a Star

It seems like a long time has passed since Delmon Demarcus Young was the number one pick in the country. The year was 2003 and the team was the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays. He had been picked before Richie Weeks (who went second). He was picked before Nick Markakis, Aaron Hill, Daric Barton, John Danks, Ian Stewart, Carlos Quentin, David Aardsma, Chad Cordero and Conor Jackson. Up until this year, most would look at that list and look at Young and say that the Bay Rays miscalculated. Young--the younger brother of Dmitri Young--was 18 at the time.

Young was fast tracked through the minor leagues where he accumulated an .884 OPS mostly in Double A and Triple A. He showed that he had it all. He stole bases, he hit for power. Just three years after he was drafted and by then still only 21 years old, Young made his debut for the Bay Rays in 2006. He got 40 hits in 30 games and finished batting .318 that season with an .812 OPS. The one hole in his game was that he walked only once in all those games.

The very next year, he played in all 162 games for the Bay Rays. The good news was that he had 186 hits and drove in 93 runs. The bad news was that he led the league in grounding into double plays, didn't walk much and finished the season with little power and a 91 OPS+. He also struck out 127 times. He wasn't particularly impressive in the outfield either with negative numbers in fielding categories. He did throw out 16 runners though and he came in second in Rookie of the Year voting. Not a bad start.

But all during those early years, there were stories of trouble concerning Young. He didn't hustle. He didn't concentrate. He wasn't coachable. Those were the stories. This Fan doesn't know if they were true or not. In what seemed at the time like addition by subtraction, the Bay Rays traded their 2003 first round draft pick to Minnesota along with Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan. The Bay Rays, thanks in part to that trade, went on to the World Series and the Twins, for one of the few times in the decade, missed the playoffs.

Young did a few things right in 2008 though he played in ten less games than the year before. His batting average went up to .290 and he improved his On Base Percentage to .336 but he still didn't hit with any pop and finished the season with an even 100 OPS+. His outfield defense was even worse in 2008 than it was in 2007.

After that season, his Twins' manager, Ron Gardenhire--who said his words were faulty, but they probably weren't--told the media that newly acquired outfielder, Carlos Gomez would be one third of the Twins' 2009 outfield along with Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span. He didn't mention Young at all. The statement caused quite a stir at the time and probably showed Gardenhire's disenchantment with his outfielder.

True to Gardenhire's words, Young made it into only 108 games in 2009. His OPS+ regressed back to 91. His On Base Percentage was a paltry .308. He did show more pop though and his .474 slugging percentage was the best of his young career. His outfield defense also improved. Carlos Gomez turned out to be a bust or Young might have been forgotten altogether.

Those of us who had seen this early track record of Delmon Young assumed he was not as talented or driven enough to live up to his draft selection. He was lumped into conversations with Lastings Milledge and other recent and supposed busts. The Rays certainly seemed to get the better of that deal and the Twins looked like they got taken (Harris has been a bust too).

But something seems to have clicked for Delmon Young. He has seemed fired up since the start of the season. He seemed to be having more fun playing baseball. Whether that is the case or not, we can also consider that he is still only 25 years old and still growing as a player. That growth has gone into overdrive. This year, he is one of the Twins' best players.

Prior to Sunday's game with the White Sox, Young had a robust OPS+ of 122. His line was .304/.343/.497. He had already driven in 60 runs and 35 of his 89 hits had been for extra bases. He had only struck out 36 times. All this had been evident for weeks, but has really crystallized in this weekend series against the White Sox. It was a series that the Twins really needed to win as the White Sox were red hot and had taken over the division lead. And like a true star that Young is becoming, Young rose to the occasion and had a big series.

Young went 6 for 16 in the series which was capped by his performance on Sunday. He started Minnesota's scoring with a two-run homer and then, after the White Sox had stormed back to take a three run lead, the Twins got to closer, Bobby Jenks. Jenks never got anybody out. The culminating hit was by Delmon Young. His single to right, a nifty bit of hitting for the right-handed batter, scored the tying run and when Alex Rios airmailed the throw to home, the winning run scored on the error. Young was mobbed by his teammates and he was all smiles.

It seems those smiles were a long time coming. Maybe when all is said and done, the Twins will be seen to have made a good deal in getting Delmon Young. His best years are ahead of him.


Josh Borenstein said...

Finally starting to live up to his hype. Took him awhile, but he's still a young man.

Anonymous said...

There are multiple reasons as to why Delmon's development was delayed. He did have difficulty focusing, due to his mother's illness. He was trying to find his way on a team that was competing for a post season spot and could not afford to be as patient as he needed them to be. He was, somewhat stubborn, when it came to making adjustments that were needed.