Projecting Delmon Young

Views are mixed on Delmon Young. People who trust only numerical analysis don't care much for Young. Scouts rave about him. This is in stark contrast to just 18 months ago, when SABR people thought he was a sure fire star and scouts doubted his character. It's hard enough projecting a fairly stable entity, but how do you project a moving target, especially one who doesn't turn 23 until September? I'll give it a shot.

The numbers
Young had a great start to his pro career after being taken number one overall in the 2003 draft. His minor league OPS is 880, despite being the youngest player on every team he's ever played on. In 2006, he was at or near the top of most prospect lists and well on his way to superstardom, according to the numbers. Those who had doubts about him doubted his character, but not his ability.

But last year he struggled as a 21 year old in his rookie season in the majors. Some of his numbers were good. He hit 38 doubles and drove in 93 runs, finishing second in the rookie of the year voting.

But the numbers that tend to lead to accurate projections were not good. He struck out 127 times and walked only 26 times. He swung at more pitches than any other player in baseball. And his average dipped to .288, which resulted in a .316 OBP. Plus he hit only 16 homers, which is a low number for a guy who swings like Soriano.

His major league numbers could mean two things, one optimistic and one pessimistic:

  • Optimism He was overmatched in his first season and perhaps tried too hard on a team that lacked a solid line-up, rather than relaxing and trusting his natural ability.
  • Pessimism His minor league numbers suggest that he is just a swing-happy hitter, and that is not likely to change. He struck out at 18%, 15% and 17% rates the last three years. That means that his major league strike out total is not out of line for his career. His walk rate last year (8%) was actually a career high.
Scouting
Scouts love his swing and the way the ball sounds coming off the bat (Tom Kelly paraphrase). You can't teach the tools he possesses: Bat speed, squaring the baseball on the bat, and such. They say he's advanced for his age at making contact. He just needs to develop a little more patience and he'll be a great hitter.

How Young develops depends on his attitude as much as his skills. And by many accounts, he's matured some since the trade from the Rays. He certainly worked hard in the offseason. But how far has he come? Can he take the next step?

I don't have an answer to those questions. But I do think he will be better this year than last year. I think the fresh start, combined with a better, more patient surrounding cast of players, will help Young put up the kind of numbers he put up in  the minor leagues. If Gardy goes ahead with his plan to put Young between Mauer and Morneau, that is much better protection than he's ever received.

He'll be a hacker as much as Torii Hunter was, but not as much as Vlad Guerrero. But he'll get away with it because he's just a good natural hitter with more power than he's shown in the majors to date. Here are my projected numbers:

PA:700 AB:640 H:206 2B:42 3B:4 HR:22 BB:40 SO:112 .322/.357/.503/860

What do you think? Please take the poll and leave comments.

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