What Happened to Delmon Young?

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What Happened to Delmon Young?
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Delmon Young had a pretty solid season last year, with a league average bat and a very good arm in right field making him a decent major league ballplayer. So what's so bad about that? The problem is, the often forgotten Young was once considered the top prospect in baseball—for about four years.

Let's start with some background on Delmon Young. Delmon is the hulking 6'3", 200 pound little brother of former Major League (and current Nationals AAA) slugger Dmitri Young.

He was born on Sept. 14, 1985, which makes him, quite surprisingly, only 23 right now. He was the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2003, a year after they took currently Major League star BJ Upton with the second overall pick.

Although he did not play that season, his prospect status was almost immediately evident. When Baseball America came out with it's rankings for the following season, he debuted on the list—at the No. 3 overall spot.

This isn't all that unusual, but it's still a high ranking for a player with no pro experience. For example, 2008 first rounder Tim Beckham debuted on the list at 28 this season. The two players ahead of him—Joe Mauer and BJ Upton—are both All-star caliber players. That shows you how highly Young was thought of at the time.

Scouts loved pretty much everything about Young. He had tremendous power to all fields, a great line drive swing, could hit for average and power, had good range and a great arm in the outfield, and could run the bases. He was considered a can't miss.

Young lived up to the hype initially. In his first pro season, 2004, he hit .322 with a 25 homers and 21 steals in the Sally league as an 18 year old. He had arrived on the professional scene in a big way.

When the Baseball America rankings for the 2005 season came out he was again in the third spot, behind Mauer and current Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez.

His 2006 season was even better. The 19 year old started at AA Montgomery, his home town team, and raked big time. In 84 games he hit .336 with a near 1.000 OPS, 20 homers, and 71 RBI.

Despite playing just over half the season, he would go on to win the Southern League MVP award. Once promoted to AAA Durham at only 19 years old, Delmon struggled a bit. He only hit .285, and his .303 OBP left something to be desired. But he was 19 and already in AAA. Not much to complain about there.

By that point Delmon was the top prospect in Major League Baseball, and Baseball America rated him as such going into the 2006 season. As a 20 year old Baseball America went out on a limb—well not really—by saying he should be in the big leagues at some point that season. A scout was quoted as saying "He (Delmon) can do whatever he puts his mind to do."

But 2006 was a year of turmoil for Young. On Apr. 26 Young was called out on strikes. Unhappy with the call, Young stared down the umpire, then, while walking towards the dugout, tossed his bat at the umpire, hitting him in the chest.

The infamous tossed bat incident cost Young 50 games, and limited how well he could develop at the minor league level. On the season, he still hit .316, but his .341 OBP wasn't great and he only hit eight homers in limited playing time.

Still, he made his MLB debut that August, more than a month before his 21st birthday. In 126 at bats Young hit for a .317 average but again didn't draw enough walks. He did however hit a few homers, 9 doubles, and a triple to put up a decent SLG as a 20 year old in MLB. His future seemed bright.

Going into 2007 Baseball America ranked him as the third best prospect in MLB, his fourth top three appearance in four years in pro baseball.

His rookie season however did not go as planed. Although he continued to hit for a high average, .288 on the season, Young took only 26 walks on the season, and only hit 13 home runs. He finished the year with an OPS below the league average.  Still he was 21 years old, and finished second in rookie of the year voting.

But the relationship between Young and the Rays was never easy. Young had attitude issues, and was upset with how long it took the Rays to move him up to the big leagues.

That winter, the guy who had been a top-three prospect in all of baseball every year of his pro career, was traded to the Twins, along with Brandon Harris, for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.

Young did not arrive as a Major League player in 2008, but he did improve. He, yet again, hit for a good average (.290), and his BB rate improved, raising his OBP to a solid .336 level, approaching the levels he posted in AAA in 06.

It looked like he might be adjusting, at least in that respect. But his power was completely gone. In his first 60 games, Young did not go deep.

However from June 6 to the end of the season, Young picked it up a bit. Through the rest of the year, he hit .304/.346/.443 with 10 homers and 18 doubles. As a 22 year old, he was a high BA guy, with emerging power and improving plate discipline.

But this season he has regressed back to his early 2008 state, even worse. For the first time as a pro he can't even hit for a high batting average, hitting .256 on the season. His BB rate is down under three percent, his OBP under .300, and he's hit only 2 home runs so far.

The question is, how does a guy who was such a huge prospect for so long, a guy who had the scouting reports and minor league numbers to be a star, continue to struggle so greatly as a MLB player.

First let's start with the one big positive—the batting average. The way he maintains such a constantly high BA is hard to understand. He makes contact about 80 percent of the time—solid but nothing more. And he has little power.

His first year, the big thing was, he really did have a great line drive stroke, hitting 21 percent line drives in his first season. That LD% has gone down to around 17 percent with the Twins though, taking away his best skill.

In Minnesota, his GB% has spiked to around 54 percent, yet his BABIP is around .350 for his career. Hitting a bunch of hard liners and groundballs would explain his high BABIP to a degree though, so we can understand the average.

But his power is simply gone. His career minor league slugging percentage was well over .500. His career MLB slugging percentage currently sits at just over .400. While those grounders might help his batting average a bit, they are completely sapping his power. He also has no plate discipline at all.

The average MLB player will swing about about 25 percent of pitches outside of the zone. Young, for his career, has swung at about 40 percent of them.

When you look at what pitches Young has struggled on, it's the breaking pitches. At least in his first season he did great with fastballs. He was 12.3 runs above replacements on fastballs during the 2007 season.

But he was also 14.9 runs below replacement against sliders. Since then he has improved dramatically against the slider, but his strength—fastballs—has now become a bit of a weakness. He just can't hit anything now.

The thing is, if you want to know what went wrong, look at the difference between his rookie year and his career in Minnesota. In his first year he was a high BA, high line drive hitter with solid power, who dominated fastballs and struggled with breaking pitches.

He was 21 though, and he had plenty of time to get better. He couldn't draw a walk, but there was some promise. Since coming to Minnesota his BA has dropped, he's not hitting nearly as many line drives, his power has gone away completely, and he's not killing those fastballs.

My best guess as to what exactly happened to Delmon Young is complicated. Young was obviously mishandled by the Rays, who rushed him to the big leagues at 20 years old. He has so many holes in his game, and his attitude could be preventing him from fixing those holes.

Young was a very good prospect, but there were warning signs. We knew he wouldn't draw enough walks, we knew the power wasn't exactly following him to the higher levels, and we knew he had attitude problems. Those first two problems followed him to the big leagues but almost looked manageable. The third problem may not be.

In the end maybe that scout was right. Delmon has all the talent in the world, but he will only be as good as he wants to be. He doesn't seem mitigated in Minnesota, and when he doesn't want to play well, he doesn't play well. 

At times he's a fastball murdering, line drive hitting, power hitter who doesn't strike out all that much. But at times he looks lost at the plate, a light hitting outfielder who's only in the lineup because of his arm.

This shows us just how unpredictable the minor leagues are. You can't get much more "can't miss" than Delmon Young. He had it all from a prospect standpoint. The scouting reports loved him and he dominated at every level. But he just hasn't made it in the Majors. But here's the thing.

Young is 23 years old. Twenty three. He was born a month after David Price. And he's certainly shown plenty of talent. Maybe, just maybe, it's not time to give up just yet. Delmon Young might just end up being as good as he wants to be.

This article was originally published at FantasyBullpen.com

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