When Delmon Young was selected 1st overall in the 2003 amateur entry draft, scouts drooled over his impactful bat. A 6-3, 205 pound right-handed hitter, Young elicited comparisons to a youthful Albert Belle. As a precocious prospect, Young compiled an excellent minor league resume, batting a combined .317/.363/.517 in three years while rocketing through the Tampa Bay farm system. Sure, you would like to a few more walks, but those numbers are first-rate considering that Young was several years younger than his peers. Young reached the majors late in the 2006 season as a 20 year-old, posting an aggressive-but-impressive .317/.336/.476.
Since that point, Young has experienced some growing pains. As a 21 year-old in 2007, he managed a .288/.316/.408 line, with a minuscule walk rate (3.9 BB%) and a rather tame .119 ISO. It must be mentioned that it is a rather Herculean feat for a 21 year-old to keep his head above water in the majors, as Young did. Still, Delmon’s approach was greener than grass, as he swung at a startling 41.33% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone. Among qualified batters, only Fan Graphs whipping boy Tony Pena Jr. and notorious bad-ball hitter Vladimir Guerrero had a higher O-Swing%. Also, Young hit a groundball 46.3% of the time, far more than one would expect from a corner outfielder known for possessing lightning in his bat.
Along with Jason Pridie and Brendan Harris, Young was traded to the Minnesota Twins last offseason in exchange for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan. While Garza posted a solid 1.81 WPA/LI for the AL champion Rays, Young (-1.25 WPA/LI) posted another tepid line in 2008:
.290/.336/.405, 5.7 BB%, .115 ISO
Young’s execrable plate discipline improved by a very slight margin, as he swung at “only” 39.92% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone (4th-worst in the majors..hey, it’s a start). However, his power remained nonexistent, and his already-high groundball rate skyrocketed from 46.3% to 55.2%. Delmon’s groundball rate was the 6th-highest among qualified batters. A quick look at the top batters in GB% shows the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Bourn, Jacoby Ellsbury and Willy Taveras. In other words, speed players capable of beating out grounders for a base hit, guys who hit groundballs by design. As a purported power bat, Young sticks out like a sore thumb.
While it’s not at all surprising that Young’s plate discipline remains raw, it is a bit disconcerting that he was nearly outslugged by Nick Punto this past season. Whether it be a coaching issue (the Twins are viewed as a team that preaches a “contact-first” approach) or simply the normal growing pains associated with a very young player adjusting to competition at the highest level, Young remains more promise than production at this point. For a guy expected to put a charge in the ball, chopping grounders into the dirt as often as Ichiro and Ellsbury is certainly not advisable.
Not to sound like a broken record, but Young’s age must be taken into account when assessing his production. He will be only 23 years old in 2009, an age where most prospects are just seeing their first big-league action. Via Baseball-Reference, we find that Carl Yastrzemski and Roberto Clemente rank among Delmon’s most comparable players through age 22. To show just how wide of a range of outcomes are possible for his career at this point, Jose Guillen (a former top prospect who never lost his hacking style) also ranks among his 10 most comparable players.
Delmon Young has been something of a disappointment and needs to stop playing a slap-hitter’s brand of baseball, but it would be foolish to consider him a bust at this point. The truth is, there’s a wildly divergent range of scenarios for Young’s career path. It’s possible that his patience never develops and he remains a disappointment, but it’s also quite possible that he re-discovers his power stroke, fine-tunes his control of the zone and establishes himself as a valuable commodity. Given that he has several years of development time remaining, Young must be kept on the fantasy radar screen.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.