Forever Young?

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Delmon Young was teetering on the brink, on the edge, on whatever. Pretty much, he was about as close as one can get to officially being stamped with the dreaded “bust” label.  After being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Young trudged through three-plus underwhelming seasons with the Rays and Twins while averaging a measly 11 homers and 67 RBIs per 500 at-bats. 

You couldn’t blame the Twins when they signed Jim Thome heading into the 2010 campaign; a cut in Young’s playing time seemed both inevitable and justified.  It appeared they were all but  conceding the fact they’d made a colossal error by shipping ace Matt Garza to the Rays in exchange for the underachieving outfielder in ’08.  

 

When Young bursted out of the gate with two homers and seven RBIs in this season’s first week, experts scoffed and were proven right when Young finished April batting .222.  Mixed-leaguers still yawned after a nice little .313-3-18 line in May, virtually ignoring Dmitri’s brother in all leagues. 

But now, Young’s raking has reached the point where everyone has to start paying attention.  Over his last 17 games, Young is batting .377 with four homers and 20 RBIs.  He currently has an 11-game hitting streak, during which he’s gone deep thrice while driving in 14 runs.  The 24-year-old is on pace for 22 homers, 111 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage, all of which would far surpass career highs. As would a .295 average, 41 doubles and a .833 OPS.

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Some guys are just late bloomers.  See Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Marlon Byrd, Brandon Phillips.  Young really isn’t that late, and is well ahead of most of those guys’ career paths.  It’s also very possible the “blooming” is a result of a brand new outlook.  Young melted off 35 pounds in offseason, and his before-and-after pictures are startling enough they could be in a Nutrisystem commercial.  He truly looks like a different guy, and even sports a new head shot with an ear-to-ear grin to ensure his cantankerous tag of yesteryear is a thing of the past.

Another part of Young’s new outlook is increased plate discipline, which is probably the most encouraging aspect of his emergence.  After averaging an even 100 whiffs per 500 at-bats with a rough strikeout rate of 20.0 during his first four seasons — a pretty unforgiveable number for a player who doesn’t hit homers — Young is on pace to fan just 60 times in 2010 with a strikeout rate of just 11.6.  And while a 38-walk pace is still pretty slim, it would be a career high, as well. 

Not many fantasy owners have caught on yet, as Young is still owned in just 19 percent of Yahoo! leagues.  So it’s time to admit that we all wrote off Delmon Young a little too soon, and start giving him some just due credit.

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