July 3, 2008

Young trying to get out of sophomore slump

When the Twins parted with Matt Garza (and others) last fall for Delmon Young (and others), many believed that this would give the Twins their legitimate right-handed bat that will at some point separate Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau in the batting order, and the first reaction was that the Twins got the better end of the deal. Looking back on that trade, there's no doubt that the Twins traded away great talent. The team parted with Garza, their 24-year-old right-handed pitcher who they selected in the first round of the 2005 draft out of Fresno State. Garza rose through the Twins minor league systems fast and quickly became one of the organizations most talented pitchers. Besides Garza, the Twins also parted with their top relief pitching prospect in Eduardo Morlan and their starting shortstop Jason Bartlett.

There's no doubt that Bartlett and Garza have played major factors in Tampa Bay's spectacular season. Manager Joe Maddon has praised both players and has even praised how Bartlett is the team's leader both on the field and in the clubhouse. Garza has been great this season, sporting a 3.47 ERA and a 7-4 record his WHIP and .37 points lower than last season and his BAA is .66 points better and he's really helped anchor the middle of the Ray's up and coming rotation. Bartlett has not been outstanding, sporting just a .256 average, he is homerless and has a dismal .592 OPS. He has 11 errors, which ranks 2nd most in the AL, but Minnesota fans are familiar with Bartlett's defense to know that his errors generally are not that big of a deal and that his defense is extremely valuable at shortstop in that he can make the most outstanding plays look like his bread and butter while the routine plays look difficult at times

In exchange for the three players, the Twins acquired Young who was the first overall pick in the 2003 draft and the AL's runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2007. The team also acquired infielder Brendan Harris who was coming off of his best season as a professional and outfield prospect Jason Pridie who the team believed could compete for the starting center field spot. Harris has been very disappointing, and has not been able to catch fire for long enough to make a significant impact on the team. In fact, his starting spot in the lineup has been in question multiple times this season and if it weren't for injuries, there's a good chance that he would've been out of a starting spot in May. Pridie lost the 3-way battle for the starting center field spot to Carlos Gomez and has not faired well in AAA so far. He's hitting just .235 with a .633 OPS and strikes out on average at least once per game. To say he's been a disappointment would be an understatement. But then again, the entire Red Wings team has been a disappointment and he is only partially to blame for their lackluster season.

Young was the centerpiece however, and many believed that it would not take a couple years for the Twins to see production from the 22-year-old outfielder. But as we sit right now, Young is hitting .284 which is very good, but has just 2 home runs and 29 RBI which makes his PECOTA prediction of 17 home runs look ridiculous at this point. And really, I think that Twins fans may be expecting too much, too soon from Young.

He is a self proclaimed slow starter and stated that around May 15th, he'll start heating up. We'll prior to that date he was hitting .270 with just 3 doubles, one triples and zero home runs in 148 at bats. Since then, he's hit .298 with 13 doubles, 3 triples and 2 home runs in 151 at bats. He clearly was correct and as you can see he is definitely starting to turn it around. His power production is still down, but I did not expect all that much (in that department) from him this season anyways. It is definitely discouraging to see a 2nd year player take that big of a dip in terms of power, but it's not unfamiliar to see players get into funks in their sophomore seasons. The NL's 2007 Rookie of the Year runner-up Troy Tulowitzki is also a self-proclaimed slow-starter and has also been stuck in a sophomore slump this season as well, although he has the excuse of being injured. Regardless, he was terrible prior to the injury and is not hitting that well since his return.

Young is starting to heat up, and he's doing it at the right time. In my observation (and to make this clear, I'm no hitting expert and if you believe it's something different please let me know, this is just my observation), his biggest problem is that it's been hard for him to find his timing and that has been his biggest problem this season. I do not believe that he's intentionally trying to push the ball to the right side, I think that his timing is just off and that he is a little late with his swing. I also believe that if levels and shortens his swing up, he could really start hitting the ball farther. And really, those are two very common things for even the best of hitters to struggle with. Whether or not we'll start seeing power production from him is still in question, but if he gets his timing down (which again, I stress is a hard thing for a young player to do), then I expect him to have a great second half like he did in '07, only I see him hitting quite a few more home runs than he did last year after the All-Star Break.

This season he is walking more, striking out less, having better pitch selection and is making more contact then he did last season. Have no fear, he's starting to come around. Hopefully he can start hitting the ball over the fence more, but regardless I've been very impressed with him as of late. With Young, the future is wide open and I for one am still confident that the Twins will get the better end of the trade in the long run. But as of right now, Tampa Bay sure looks to have the advantage.