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See You Next Year
by Jack Magruder
MESA, Ariz.--Nine at-bats into the Arizona Fall League, Delmon Young had four hits and a brand new timetable to reach the major leagues.
"If this," Young said, raising his head toward some other Fall League players taking batting practice last Friday morning, "is going to be in the big leagues, hopefully next year some time.
"If all these guys are good enough to be there, I'm looking at sometime next year. If I can hang with all these guys and I'm only 18, and these guys are 22 to 26."
Young also takes some confidence from the fact that Mesa Solar Sox teammate shortstop B.J. Upton, also a Devil Rays prospect after being the second player taken in the 2002 draft, is holding his own in limited time.
"B.J. is hanging with them, and he's only 19. B.J. should be up there next year, and hopefully I can be up there next year, too," Young said.
Young is making his pro debut in the AFL after signing with Tampa Bay for a $5.8 million bonus on Sept. 9 following his selection as the first-overall pick in the June draft. He said at that time he hoped to be in the majors in 2005.
Young spent two weeks in instructional league before being dispatched to the Fall League, where his older brother Dmitri played in 1997. Delmon opened the season as a member of the taxi squad, eligible to play only twice a week.
He came out swinging, hitting two ground-rule doubles--one to left-center field and the other to right-center--in his first start, when he had three hits, two off knuckleballer Charlie Zink. While Young got to two strikes in seven of his first nine plate appearances, he had not struck out.
"The pitching, I haven't been dominated yet when I've been up to the plate. I haven't seen a pitch I can't hit," Young said. "I can play with all these guys. I'm playing with them right now. I'm just waiting to see if I can get off the taxi squad and get on to the regular roster soon."
The most difficult thing for Young is the partial activity. The best high school player in the country last season, Young has never missed time except when injured, as he was with a mild ankle problem early last season at Camarillo (Calif.) High.
"I sat on the couch all summer, but that was a whole different story,'' said Young, who said he hit every day between the draft and his signing six weeks ago.
Although he does not play every day in Mesa, Young takes batting practice and fielding work daily, and his dedication has been evident.
"The first term that comes to mind is 'old school,'" Mesa Solar Sox manager Pat Kelly said of Young. "He's one of the earliest guys here. He's always down in the cages hitting. I think he is still feeling his way around the clubhouse, because of his age, but I think he has adjusted well."
Young has made a point of punctuality.
"You show up late once, you get a reputation of always being late. You might as well be early every day," Young said.
Young hit .541-7-28 in just 22 games with Camarillo High last season, when he was slowed by his ankle injury. The year before, Young went .542-17-56 in 34 games and was the first junior to win the California prep player of the year award since Eric Chavez (Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High) in 1995. He had a record nine homers in eight games while playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships in Canada, to earn the tournament's MVP award.
"He just has one of those bats that make a different sound than everybody else's really," said Kelly, who spent the 2003 season as the manager at Triple-A Richmond.
"He's very special at the plate. There are certain guys who walk up to the plate and just have that look. Delmon's one of those guys. He walks up there and he means business. He sprays the ball around, but he has power and he hits the ball hard. He's very impressive for a young player."
• Mesa Solar Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes (Devil Rays) was transferred to Team USA for an exhibition game against Team Canada on Oct. 25 because of a hamstring injury to Team USA outfielder J.J. Davis (Pirates). Gomes homered in his first at-bat of the game, which was suspended after 10 innings with the score tied at six. Gomes was leading the Fall League with six homers at the time of his temporary transfer. Gomes also was to play for Team USA in their final exhibition game Monday night against Team Canada. Team USA's 24-man roster is to be announced Oct. 28. The U.S. is one of 13 countries scheduled to participate in the Olympic qualifying tournament for the Americas from Oct. 30-Nov. 11 in Panama City, Panama, with the top two finishers making the 2004.
• Mesa Desert Dogs lefthander Matt Squires (Phillies), a late addition to the Fall League, did not give up a run in his first six appearances covering 6 1/3 innings, striking out five while allowing three hits. Squires, Bobby Korecky (Phillies) and Bryan Hebson (Red Sox) pitched five innings of hitless relief in the Desert Dogs' 5-4, 10-inning victory over the Peoria Saguaros. Hebson is 3-0, 2.77. Dewon Brazelton (Devil Rays) is 3-0, 1.42 in four starts, giving up only 12 hits in 19 innings while striking out 19. Opponents are hitting .182 against him. He was the Fall League's pitcher of the week for Oct. 13-18.