12 May 2010
Delmon Young is an interesting case-study in elite prospects that take a turn for the worse. In 2003, Delmon Young was considered the best amateur baseball talent in the country. After a successful career at Adolfo Camarillo High School in California, the Tampa Bay Rays decided he was worthy of a $3.7 million signing bonus and the first overall selection in the draft.
Young signed a major-league contract after three months of negotiations with the Devil Rays, whom he described as "just another club, nothing special." He was clearly self-confident, and had one of the most powerful bats in the draft. Scouts projected him to fit comfortably in Tampa Bay's right-field as soon as 2005, when he would be 20 years old.
The hype surrounding Young was palpable, but the track-record of previous No.1 overall picks wasn't necessarily high. Just look at Bryan Bullington and Matt Bush (but ignore Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, and Joe Mauer as they don't further the point I'm trying to make).
Prior to the 2004 season, Young was ranked by Baseball America as the 3rd-best prospect in baseball. He hit .322/.388/.538 against clearly over-matched Single-A pitchers in 2004. Young jumped up to Double-A in 2005 and Triple-A in 2006 (where he was ranked as baseball's top prospect by BA). When Jonny Gomes underwent surgery in 2006, Young was called upon to play in the remaining 31 games.
Young was hitting home runs and stealing bases like no one's business during his stint in the minor leagues, and he looked like a legitimate 30/30 (HR/SB) threat. The fact that he was striking out an obscene 20 percent of the time was mostly over-looked, after all, Young was hitting the ball 400 feet over the outfield fence!
Playing every single game of the 2007 season with the Rays, Young hit .288/.316/.408 with just 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases. His 127/26 strikeout-to-walk ratio was incredibly problematic, but mostly over-looked. The kid was still young, after all, and he would certainly gain a better understanding of strike zones as he grew older.
Even a trade to Minnesota couldn't bust Young from his ineptitude. In 2009, Young struck out 23.3 percent of the time. He was renowned for whiffing at first pitches, and couldn't draw a walk to save his life. The home runs weren't there anymore, and the stolen bases were sagging, as well. To put the icing on the cake, Young's mother died of pancreatic and liver cancer in the middle of the 2009 season. Young seemed to have lost all motivation, and was playing miserably, as well.
It appeared that the Delmon Young experiment was about as successful as England's invasion of New Orleans in 1814, which is to say it was a complete failure. Shortly following Bonnie Young's death, though, something clicked for Delmon Young.
From July through October of 2009, Young hit .306/.329/.511 with a strikeout percentage of just 16.9. Still horribly high, but a marked improvement, nonetheless. During the offseason prior to the 2010 campaign, Young lost 35 pounds and showed up to start the season a "new player."
His defensive range in the outfield had improved with the lost weight, and through May 10 is hitting .267/.323/.442 with a strikeout percentage of just 11.6. He has just three home runs (though his Isolated Power is way up), but his batting on average on balls in play is just .267, far below the major-league average and even further below his career average.
Are things looking up for the 24-year old Delmon Young? Could he finally be on the verge of becoming a capable outfielder? Dare Twins' fans dream of his potential to be a 30/30 player and regular All-Star over the next few years?
What do you think? Is the resurgence Young has experienced lately been a fluke, or can more be expected of Delmon Young?