Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Delmon Young as a Trade Piece

People often ask me why I -- like many others -- have been so steadfast in my support for Jason Kubel. After all, they'd note, Kubel is a rather unathletic 26-year-old who has been wildly inconsistent throughout his big-league career thus far and hasn't come especially close to realizing the potential he showed as a hitting machine in the minor leagues. There is one word, I think, that justifies the continued faith that many show in Kubel: progress.

Kubel got better as he rose through the various levels of the Twins' farm system. His best season, by far, was his last full year in the minors, when Kubel batted .352 with 42 doubles, 22 home runs and 100 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A. He was in the major leagues as a 22-year-old, and would have stuck there if not for a knee injury suffered the following offseason that derailed his development as a player. Kubel returned in 2006 and was terrible, but he has shown steady improvement since returning from the injury. His OPS figures with the Twins since returning in '06: 605, 785, 806. The progress may not have been as fast as some would have liked (thus the widespread resentment for Kubel), but it's there. Delmon Young has followed a rather different path.

Young was a monster in the low minors, skipping rookie ball altogether and posting huge averages with impressive power numbers as a teenager in Single-A and Double-A. Yet, as he rose through the minors, Young's power numbers started to wane, and he hasn't totaled more than 13 home runs in a season or posted an especially impressive slugging percentage since 2005, his second year as a pro. What this indicates, to me, is a guy whose raw talent and physical prowess made him a man among boys in high school and in the low minors, but whose unwillingness to take coaching and adjust his approach has caused his performance to level off. With the exception of a slight improvement in his plate discipline (going from awful to bad), Young made essentially zero progress from 2007 to 2008. Twenty-three years old or not, that's troubling.

Much gets made of Young's age, as if the fact that he is only 23 years old should earn him a free pass for his sub par performance. But take a look at Young's former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, who are currently competing in the World Series. Evan Longoria, 22, has been a huge presence on that team. B.J. Upton, who was 23 for most of the season, has been a driving force for the Rays in the playoffs. Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were both in the big leagues at the age of 22 and were considerably more productive than Young was this year. The fact that he's younger than most of his colleagues is a reason to cut Young some slack, but it doesn't totally excuse his lack of success nor does it guarantee that he will improve significantly over the next several years. Experience is more important than age, and Young has already accumulated 1,346 major-league at-bats, more than any of the aforementioned players had at his age -- more than Kubel has to date, in fact.

Some general managers get poked fun of extensively, but none of them are oblivious morons. The hype that has surrounded Young has been built around his status as a No. 1 overall draft pick and his domination as a teenager in the minor leagues, which led scouts to prophecize big things several years ago. It was somewhat reasonable to cling to that hype last winter, when Bill Smith gambled and sent a top young pitcher and a starting shortstop to Tampa Bay in order to bring Young to the Twins' organization in spite of those downward trending numbers. One year later, with no progress shown, it is less reasonable to do so, and it stands to reason that no GM will be willing to take a similar gamble. Like it or not, Young's value is significantly lower than it was a year ago, and for that reason it would be a mistake for the Twins to move him.

I've written a lot of negative things about Young in this post, but I'm not trying to sign his death warrant. He has the size and pedigree to develop into a good hitter, and the Twins are better off seeing that through than peddling him to another organization for a substandard return. And believe me, that's about what he'd bring back at this point. Any rumors of a Young-for-Matt Cain or Young-for-J.J. Hardy swap are completely off-base. No GM in the league is going to surrender premium talent for a former No. 1 pick who has essentially failed to show any tangible improvement over the course of his entire five-year professional career.

Through nearly 1,500 big-league at-bats, Young has shown himself to be an undisciplined hitter who mashes ground-balls at a steady rate, and a poor defender who won't provide even average value defensively at a corner outfield spot. There's not a ton of reason for extreme optimism, and those who still believe he's destined to transform into an elite slugger are stuck on scouting reports from two years ago. I sincerely doubt any general managers around the league carry that mindset anymore. Still, Young remains likely to improve to some degree, and Smith needs to follow through on his gamble and see what becomes of the player he gave up so much for just a year ago. Losing patience and ditching the experiment now simply would not benefit this team in the long run.

8 comments:

WWCD said...

In general I would say it's too soon to give up on Young. But, there are lots of intangibles that we don't know about here: clubhouse presence, attitude, etc. Would a trip to Rochester help? Or a visit to Garza's psychologist? Everyone was ready to write off Span and he turned a corner. Maybe Young will mature at some point.

Even if he doesn't turn around and it turns out to have been a bad trade there is a silver lining. Seriously, if Bill Smith has a reputation for not always making the best trade GM's will be more willing to talk to him. Who would you rather deal with if you were a GM - Bill Smith or Terry Ryan the architect of Frisco's Fiasco? If Terry Ryan called me up wanting prospects in a trade I would probably hang up and put them on the major league roster instead.

areinsch said...

If we're listing reasons to cut Young some slack, the Metrodome playing like a somewhat severe pitcher's park over the past few years also seems relevant. Delmon's age-22 OPS+ (102) was actually higher than Baldelli's (100) and pretty similar to Crawford's (105).

In any event, I agree with your conclusion about his trade value and the need to maybe scale back expectations. There may be some more reasonable comparisons that are a still pretty positive. Rondell White was another right-handed hitter who never really developed much homerun power but made himself useful by somewhat mitigating his low walk rate with a .280-.290 batting average and a gang of doubles. At the high end, his swing kind of reminds me of Magglio Ordonez' (though I readily admit to being totally bad at even pretending to be a scout), who also took a little bit of time to develop his power. Though not as much time.

Anyhow, good post, Nick.

Nick N. said...

Interesting point, but Young's biggest problem was a lack of power and I suspect that had a lot more to do with him hitting the ball on the ground 55.2 percent of the time (third-highest in the AL) than the ballpark dynamics of the Metrodome.

Randy Crouton said...

I was quite satisfied and even slightly impressed with Young's offensive production. He had a higher OBP and AVG than Kubel, Casilla, Harris, and Cuddyer. He was also third in HRs and fourth in SBs. He improved his K/BB rate as well. I agree that he's not looking like an All-Star caliber player right now, and he may never be what he was projected to be, but I think that trading him anytime soon would be foolish.

I sure wish he'd get better in the field though.

Randy Crouton said...

Oh, and I would also like to add that Young seems to do better when he's not worrying about taking pitches and drawing walks.

Mar/Apr:
6 BB/19 K .255 AVG

May:
11 BB/16 K .264 AVG

Jun:
3 BB/16 K .321 AVG

Jul:
2 BB/18K .330 AVG

Aug:
8 BB/17K .245 AVG

Sep:
5 BB/19K .330 AVG

Young hit well over .300 for three of the last four months of the season while having a fairly awful BB/K ratio. Seems like a bit of improvement throughout the year.

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