Five Questions From Travis: Delmon Young

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This morning as a disgustingly depressing mix of snow and sleet falls on the Kansas City metro area, we take a look at the second of five question posed to me by Southside Showdown Lead Writer Travis Miller.

My original plan was to get this published last night, but a nasty headache and two uncooperative children forced me to spend the bulk of my night on the couch playing Dragon Quest IX on my Nintendo DS. By 10:15 pm I was in bed which is a very rare occurrence for me since I usually make it well past midnight.

So today I am enacting “Plan B” by addressing question 2 this morning and question 3 later tonight after squishing a full day of work in between. Beyond that I’ve got a ton of article ideas backing up on the assembly line, but I am hoping to get a ton of writing done this weekend. Now, back to the question at hand.

Question #2:

Did Delmon Young overachieve last year or is he here to stay?

Before I get started, I should state for the record that I am a huge fan of Delmon Young and have been ever since Tampa Bay drafted him 1st overall back in the 2003. As a result, I am not the most objective person in the Twins blogosphere when it comes to our young LF.

When people were down on him, I championed his abilities. When people started saying the Twins got fleeced in the trade that brought DY to Minnesota, I lobbied everyone who would listen to remain patient. When he struggled, I did my best to explain it away and find excuses for those struggles. I’m not only a fan, I’m also a Delmon Young apologist.

Of course whether or not a player is struggling is really based on the general expectations placed upon them. In the case of Delmon there was almost no way for him to live up to the hype. Apologist or not, even I recognize that he has failed to live up to those lofty expectations. Even after his successful 2010 campaign that remains the case.

I wrote about Delmon at length last week when he agreed to a $5.375 million deal for the 2011 season. Since a lot of my article on that day is relevant to Travis’ question, I thought it fitting to quote a fairly large section.

Those early expectations are a shame because they overshadow the fact that DY had been around a league average hitter in his first 4 seasons and 452 games played (2006-2009). Then last season as a 24-year old he hit 0.298/.333/.493 with 46 2B and 21 HR in 613 PA.

There are still those out there that doubt his ability and his future potential, but for me he turned a corner and is ready to become the superstar offensive player I have been waiting for. There are plenty of positive signs. For the third straight year his SLG increased (0.405 in 2008 to 0.423 in 2009 to 0.493 last season). In 2010 he struck out once in every 7.57 plate appearances which was a drastic improvement from his 2009 mark of 1 SO ever 4.52 PA and also an improvement over his 2008 mark of 1 SO every 5.93 PA. He doesn’t take a lot of walks and he swings at a lot of pitches out of the zone, but he does have a knack for making contact on those pitches. Delmon has always been overaggressive at the plate and that characteristic will likely always remain as a part of his profile, but he should be able to make gradual adjustments in his approach that will make this trait less of a liability.

On the defensive side of things he also improved significantly. While he was still below average in LF there was obvious and marked improvement. After a -18.7 UZR/150 in 2008 and -22.0 UZR/150 in 2009, he finished 2010 with a more palatable -11.0 UZR/150. The change in home venue surely helped his cause along these lines but it went beyond that. He’s never going to win a gold glove, but I do believe he can get to a point where he is near league average. If the Twins had let him play his natural position of RF from the moment he joined the team things could have been very different. In RF he was above average defensively with the Rays in 2006 and 2007 and the scouting reports of him in right while he was coming up in the minors were always positive as well.

Did Delmon Young overachieve last year? I would say definitively that he did not.

What he did in 2010 was take a step toward being the player that the vast majority of the baseball world expected he would become from the time he was drafted to his first full season in the majors (2007). In 2008 and 2009 he wasn’t a “bad” player – despite the feelings of many Twins fans – but given his ability, being major league average offensively and below average defensively was simply not acceptable. Even though he was only 22 and 23 in each of those respective seasons he was capable of so much more.

Delmon gets a lot of credit here because he obviously came to that conclusion after the 2009 season. He realized that he needed to rededicate himself to the game and to his team. Then he changed. The result was a much happier, more well adjusted and physically fit player in 2010. The Delmon Young we saw last season was leaner and showed far more athleticism on the field that we had seen from him in several years. He was also more mature. Knowing you need to change something really isn’t that hard. Actually implementing those changes however can be a massive undertaking.

He did both and he has my respect because of it.

Further, we cannot not lose sight of the fact that he is still only 25-years old. Given his natural ability it would be foolish to think that he won’t continue to improve. He didn’t overachieve in 2010 because he’s still not the player he can – and I believe he will – become. He did take a nice step toward realizing his potential though and I would be stunned if he didn’t take another big step forward in 2011.

There’s not a doubt in my mind, Delmon Young is here to stay and he’s going to get even better.

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