Is he due for a breakout season?
Every spring we're treated to a typical batch of optimism. This guy is in the best shape of his life, this guy's arm couldn't feel any better, this guy's injury is in the past, this guy is built like a brick. Last season, Joe Crede looked like Paul Bunyan. This year, apart from Francisco Liriano being hyped so much it makes me nervous, we're getting some Delmon Young love straight out of the oven.
Apparently he's lost 29 pounds over the winter, which would bring him down to the 200 range. He's never been svelte with the Twins by any stretch of the imagination, but dropping that much weight should be a good thing. In theory, if you're slow and you lose weight you should be a bit quicker. If you're bigger and you trim up, you should be a bit more agile. Basically you should be healthier, and this is a good thing.
If you want to be positive about Delmon's potential for a breakout season, there's a lot of circumstantial evidence you can point to in addition to the hard work he's put in.
Exhibit A: The Strong Finish
Right, so he's done this before. In his late-season debut in 2006 he swatted a promising .317/.336/.476 as a 20-year old, but more recently with the Twins is where he's made a name for himself. In September of 2008 he raked, .330/.368/.455, and last season was no different as from September 1 through the end of the season belted to the tune of a .340/.359/.505 triple slash. When you hit like that it doesn't really matter that you don't walk.
So just like this time last year, we hope that Delmon takes whatever he picked up on at the end of last season and can translate it to this spring starting on Day One. Hope springs eternal.
Exhibit B: Slow Starts Do Not A Career Make
Here are four players, and their career triple slash lines through their age-23 seasons. Which one is Delmon? Which one is Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente? The other two are Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford.
Player A: .289/.320/.421
Player B: .290/.322/.416
Player C: .279/.309/.395
Player D: .285/.326/.425
Obivously these numbers aren't in a vacuum. Rocco's career has been derailed by injuries, and there's no doubt that Crawford has a different tool set, but the point is this: Delmon's future isn't written in stone. At least not yet, when he's just turned 24.
Exhibit C: Peripherals
Sometimes looking at a guy's peripherals will tell you about trends earlier than you see them in traditional statistics. Obivously walk rate (down to 2.9% from a career-high 5.6% in '08) isn't a positive thing, but the power is starting to show itself a bit more.
Young's isolated power jumped 27 points from '08 to '09, as more fly balls left the park (11.4% of flies actually, which is right around average). That .142 iso isn't anything to write home about unless you're a second baseman, but it got better. If it continues to get better, even if his on-base skills continue to stagnate, then there's nothing wrong with having a number eight hitter with power.
Exhibit D: Projection Systems Still Like Him
They don't love him, but they like him. Bill James (.297/.332/.437), Marcel (.288/.328/.423) and especially CHONE (.305/.339/.454) all bank on Young showing some improvement this season. Obviously the love of the tools and raw skills will go away eventually, but not yet.
He's an aggressive hitter, and that might never change. But if he isn't going to change what kind of a hitter he is, we can hope he gets better at the kind of hitter he is. By avoiding guessing games, identifying pitches and understanding what situation he's in, he's a talented enough hitter that those things alone should make him more productive. Simply by putting himself in a better situation, not necessarily by suddenly deciding to be a walk machine, those power numbers that inched upwards last season might just take off.
Oh, and for the record: A) Crawford, B) Young, C) Clemente, D) Baldelli