Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Delmon's doling out the damage

These past two years Minnesota Twins outfielder Delmon Young has not made a lot of fans in the North Star State. He’s been serviceable, but serviceable is not good enough for a former No. 1 overall draft pick. Especially when a player the Twins surrendered to get Young was a first round pick of their own - pitcher Matt Garza - one who would go on to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to its first ever World Series the following season.

The trade occurred on November 27, 2007, when Minnesota sent Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa for Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie.

In 2008, Garza started 30 games for the Rays, posting an 11-9 record with a 3.70 ERA. Moreover, Garza pitched the Rays past the Boston Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS by going 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched - and subsequently being named ALCS MVP.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Young - who was touted to be a top tier bat with big-time power potential - batted his way to a pedestrian .290 BA with 10 HRs and 69 RBI in 575 at-bats.

Young followed up his ’08 campaign with a similar season in 2009 - .284 BA, 12 HRs and 60 RBI. Decent, but not spectacular by any means.

The offensive lack combined with sluggish defense by - what many saw as - an overweight outfielder led to Young falling out of favor with Twins fans and management. Young had 180 fewer at-bats in ’09 and was used in more of a platoon role than a bona fide everyday starter.

But the Twins didn’t give up on Young and his potential, feeling good enough to trade spunky CF Carlos Gomez and thus opening up an everyday spot for Delmon in left field. It’s taken some time, but things have certainly paid off for Young and Minnesota as of late.

Young showed up to the Twins 2010 spring training with a body 20-30 pounds lighter than last season and a new-found determination to prove his potential. Flash forward four months later and Delmon has leapt from an average-at-best outfielder to a terrific clutch-hitter with improved speed, range and power, who has quickly transformed himself into a viable All-Star candidate.

As of July 7, Minnesota’s surging left fielder is batting .307 and slugging .500 with 23 doubles, 9 home runs, 53 runs scored and 56 RBI. Young’s BA and SLG% trail only MVP-caliber teammate Justin Morneau (.342, .620) while his RBI mark is tied with Morneau and ranks 8th among all American League hitters.

What’s more impressive is Young’s ability to come through with runners on base. Minnesota - despite its 45-38 record and fifth-ranked AL team batting average (.272) - has been awful in the clutchest of situations (bases loaded).

With the sacks packed, Minnesota is batting .239 (22 -for-92) as a team. They’ve had their chances plenty of times - 92 ABs is second-most in AL to New York (102) - but have failed repeatedly at coming through. Only Seattle and Toronto have a poorer team BA with the bases loaded.

While most of his Twins teammates have struggled in these high-octane RBI situations, Delmon has flourished. Thus far, Young has gone 4-for-12 with a double and a team-high 13 RBI in situations with all bases occupied.

Moreover, Young has also been steady this season in the other key RBI situations. With runners in scoring position (RISP), Young leads the Twins with a .408 BA (31-for-76) and has 44 RBI. And when he comes to the plate in RISP with 2 out situations, Delmon is batting .349 with a team-leading 18 RBI.

Last night, in a Twins win over the Blue Jays at Toronto, Young was 3-for-3 with a run, RBI and a walk. Delmon’s efforts both last night and tonight could go a long way in a short time as Young is one of five players on the AL Final Vote ballot (which is to conclude Thursday at 4:00pm ET).

Fans can vote as often as possible for either Young, 1B Paul Konerko (White Sox), 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox), OF Nick Swisher (Yankees) or Texas 3B MIchael Young.

All five players are deserving but the Twins are encouraging fans to vote for Young with their “Drive in Delmon” campaign. A fitting name for a fitting cause due to Delmon’s demonstrative ability to drive in runs this season.

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