Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who is Delmon Young?

Young misplays a fly ball, allowing it to become a game-tying  inside-the-park-home-run

Delmon Young was, at one point, the hottest prospect in baseball.  Taken first overall out of high school by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 2003 draft, Young did not play at all in the minors that season because he didn't sign until September.  The Devil Rays inked him to a 5-year, $5.8 million Major League contract and immediately sent him to the Arizona Fall League, a league reserved for each organization's top prospects.  Usually the rosters consist of Double-A and Triple-A players, along with the very occasional Single-A player, but they almost never include players who have yet to play an inning of professional baseball.

After Young hit .417 in the AFL, he was assigned to Low Single-A Charleston.  Although he struck out a lot, he flashed the power and speed combination that had teams salivating over his potential, and he did it all as an 18-year old.  He skipped High Single-A and reported directly to Double-A at the start of the 2005 season.  He again hit very well, showcasing the tools that got him drafted number one overall and earning a mid-season promotion to Triple-A.  It was there that his lack of patience at the plate really cropped up as a foreboding sign of things to come.

Despite that, Young's performance, combined with the fact that he was playing at Triple-A when he was only 19, made Baseball America rank him as the top prospect in all of baseball.  But the 2006 season did not go as planned.  Rather than forcing his way into the big leagues, Young was forced to sit out 50 games because he threw his bat at an umpire following a called third strike that he disagreed with.  He still managed to make an appearance in Tampa Bay as the Devil Rays brought him up in late August, and made very solid contributions at the tender age of 20.

His rookie year, 2007, was an interesting one.  He drove in 93 runs, and garnered enough support to place second in Rookie of the Year voting, but he also showed a total lack of plate discipline and did not display nearly as much power as his pedigree suggested.  Either because he was still so young, or because they were swayed by the same thinking as the Rookie of the Year voters, that performance convinced the Twins to acquire him in a blockbuster trade.  That offseason, Minnesota sent Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Rays for Young, along with Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.

Young went 2-4 and stole a base in his first game with Minnesota, but it didn't take long for Twins fans to become disenchanted with Young.  Although he showed slightly improved plate discipline, his power disappeared altogether as it took him over 250 plate appearances to hit his first home run.  Meanwhile, questions about his effort and attitude cropped up, and his defense appeared to be legitimately awful.  Though his power picked up in the second half of the season, on the whole his performance was a replica of his 2007 season; that is to say, not what was expected from the #1 prospect in baseball.

The more Twins fans saw of him, the more ostracized he became.  He simply didn't look like an athlete; he lumbered around clumsily in left field, he seemed to be running on glass on the basepaths, and he didn't appear to have any interest in solving his hitting issues.  As a result, he lost a lot of playing time during the 2009 season due to Denard Span's emergence.  2010, then, was make or break.  With Carlos Gomez out of the way, there was no longer an outfield logjam and he had clear playing time.  He reported to camp significantly lighter and finally seemed serious about making good on his potential.  And he had by far his best season, hitting 21 homers, driving in 112 runs, cutting down on his strikeouts, and upping his slugging percentage.

But the same issues were still present: he was allergic to walking and his fielding could still be considered the worst of any outfielder in baseball, though at least his attitude looked better.  In 2011, he did not maintain the moderate success from 2010, and was again struggling in all aspects of the game.  Teams always find it difficult to give up on a player who once had so much potential, and Minnesota was no exception, particularly because Young had showed major improvements the previous year.  But enough was finally enough in August of 2011, and the Twins traded Delmon Young to division rival Detroit for an underwhelming player to be named later, identified as Lester Oliveres just a few days later.  The very modest return exemplified just how far Young had fallen since Minnesota traded for him after the 2007 season.

Updated August 27, 2011

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