Delmon Young is proof-positive that prospect projection is a very strange science. I first saw Delmon Young play alongside Lastings Milledge at a Perfect Game showcase in Jupiter, Florida when both were considered the premiere athletes of their draft class, back in 2003. Young and Milledge were the talk of the complex, as both were considered elite athletes and can’t miss players.
In his time as a professional, Young has gone from the premier prospect in baseball to underachieving regular by the age of 22. With 1300+ major league at bats under his belt, many wait and wonder if Young will ever grow into the superstar he was assumed to become. Tampa Bay cut bait, and it seems the Twins are ready to deal Young after just one season. Could this be an opportunity for the Mets? Or is Young destined to never fulfill the Hall of Fame talent he was once believed to have?
Drafted number one overall in the 2003 first-year player draft, Young signed a five-year, $5.8 million major league contract. He debuted in the AFL after signing and posted a .417 batting average in a league devoted to the game’s top prospects and veteran minor leaguers. In 2004, he made his full-season debut. As the number three prospect in all of baseball, Young showed he was a man among boys with an obscene .322/.385/.538 line with 21 steals as an 18-year-old in the Sally League. As a 19-year-old between Double-A and Triple-A, his .315/.354/.527 totals with an additional 32 steals showed why he was once again considered a top-three prospect. In 2006, Young became the top prospect and was promptly suspended an International League record fifty games for tossing (or throwing) a bat at an umpire. When he did play, he posted a .316/.341/.474 line in Triple-A before a 126-at-bat stint with the Rays in which he batted .317/.336/.476, leading to huge expectations as a rookie in 2007.
In looking at his minor league career, his worsening walk rate by level should have raised more than a few questions concerning how quickly he would adjust to big league pitching. During the 2007-2008 seasons, those questions were answered; he posted almost identical numbers with the Rays and Twins. His career line currently stands at .292/.326/.413 after two-plus big-league seasons when most hitting prospects are just making their major league debuts.
(Click here to see the numbers other Mets notables were posting at age 22 and where Young stacks up.)
What does the future hold for Young? Some would say he’s already a bust and destined to underachieve for the rest of his career. As for me, I think baseball is suffering from a Delmon Young hangover, causing him to become a huge post-hype sleeper. What facilitates a Young break out? Increased maturity and improved plate discipline should do it. With five full seasons until his prime, he still has plenty of time to become the perennial All-Star and MVP candidate many envisioned.
From the Mets’ perspective, the first question would be how Young improves the Mets both in the present and future. The second question: what would it take to land a player of Young’s talent?
Defensively, Young best profiles as a right fielder since his career UZR is -0.4 over 163 games, making him about even money at the position. In comparison, Church is a better right fielder, and has comparable career line offensively, only at about seven years Young’s senior. Being similar players now, Young has all of the projection some Mets fans perceive Church to have.
As for what it would take to land Young, one needs to assess the Twins’ current needs and see where a match can be made. The Twins need significant upgrades for the left side of their infield, relief pitching help, and seek starting pitching depth for future deals. With Kunz, Niese, and even Daniel Murphy, the Mets could make something happen.
So far a handful of rumors have surfaced on the Young front, including Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Padres, Andy Sonnanstine/Edwin Jackson of the Rays (before the latter was moved on Wednesday). Meanwhile, the Giants, Rockies, and even the hated Philadelphia Phillies, filling the void left by Pat Burrell, have also expressed interest in Young.
A Daniel Murphy-Eddie Kunz offer would fill multiple needs for the Twins and give the Mets both a right fielder of the future, and the ability to sign an Adam Dunn with the intention of spending 2009 in left field with a move to first base once Fernando Martinez is ready for prime time.
A second option may be a package of Jon Niese and Eddie Kunz for Young. Kunz fills a need in the Twins’ pen and Niese provides the Twins the depth to package Glenn Perkins for infield help.
Awhile back, I wrote about the Mets copying the Tampa Bay Rays’ draft blueprint. Now, I’m advocating taking a page out of the Kenny Williams White Sox trade manual. He added linchpins in Carlos Quentin, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd for pennies on the dollar as post-hype players and built a division champion.
If the opportunity is there, take it! Keep Delmon Young from the Phillies, extend him for terms somewhere in between the 31 million Troy Tulowitzki received and the contract extension David Wright signed, and roll the dice. Young may yet prove to be a star and the steal of the 2008 hot stove league.