“See that fella over there? He’s 20 years old. In 10 years, he he’s got a chance to be a star. Now that fella over there, he’s 20 years old too. In 10 years, he has a chance to be 30.” – Casey Stengel
Delmon Young is only 27 years old. How is that possible? It feels like he’s been around forever! When the Rays traded him, they had never won more than 70 games in a season, and since then, they have won 90 or more games four times including three playoff berths. The two key players the Rays got from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Young, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, had great runs with the Rays but have already moved on to other teams. It seems like Young has already been an enigmatic slugger for the Twins and Detroit Tigers as long as we can remember. We watched him reach the pinnacle as one of baseball’s top prospects, deliver a promising rookie year, and have his moments at other times, especially in the Postseason for the Tigers, before experiencing a steady decline. But despite all of that, he’s only 27 years old. It’s unbelievable, but it’s true. How did it happen? Simple- Young arrived in the major leagues when he was just 20 years of age.
When Young arrived in the majors in September of 2006, he seemed to be a perfect embodiment, of the latter part of the quote above, a 20 year old with improvement still to be done but clear potential for stardom. Instead, he has turned into the latter player Stengel describes, young but with little promise. “…he has a chance to be 30″- if he doesn’t get in his own way and watch his career fall apart, which is exactly what Young has done. Young came up to the major leagues, and he was, for lack of a better term, young. He came up and immediately became a solid player, which is something few players have done. You look at his comparable players at Baseball-Reference, and at comparable players numbers 6, 8, and 10, you find three players named Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, and Dave Winfield. But instead of being a rising star entering his prime, Young never matured on or off the field. He has remained forever young- but not in the sense anyone would have thought back in 2006. His raw power remains tremendous- but he struggles to bring it out on a consistent basis. His plate discipline remains a disaster. His pure hitting toll is still amazing- it takes a lot of talent to hit .284 in almost 3600 big league plate appearances, especially without a discerning eye at the plate. And mentally, he’s the same player, only having moved on from throwing bats at umpires to saying anti-Semitic slurs to Jews. A few signs of aging are clear- his body has filled out from 205 pounds to 240 and his once above-average speed has completed departed from him. But deep down, Delmon Young is that same enigmatic personality that he has been from his first day in the major leagues, and it seems like he always will be.