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Young poised to take step into stardom

By Alan Matthews
May 22, 2003

It’s less than an hour before game time at Camarillo (Calif.) High and Delmon Young stands in the center of a circle of teammates down the right-field line. A group of scouts already waits for him, positioned to gauge Young’s every move.

The draft is just a few weeks away but the 17-year-old isn’t discussing signability or strategy. Instead, he wears a grin as wide as the gap between his talent and that of almost every other player in this year’s class while practicing impersonations of teammates and playing flip.

"It’s all about having fun," Young said. "If you’re not having fun you might as well quit. Baseball is just fun, period."

Young has the perfect attitude for success: work hard and lavish in prosperity.

With all likelihood, he will be one of the first three picks in the upcoming draft.

Young’s carefree approach can be traced to having a big league big brother and a justified self-confidence. He has leaned on his brother Dmitri–an eight-year major league veteran and former first-round pick–for advice throughout the demanding draft preparation process and shares Dmitri’s baseball instincts. The combination of skill and savvy make Young perhaps the most prized player in the draft.

"You can make a hitter better by refining what he has, but the ability not just to see the ball but for your brain to react and immediately know what to do with it, is something you’re born with," said former Tigers scout Dennis Lieberthal, father of Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal. "Delmon was born with that ability."

Resounding Resume

Young has excelled at every level and in every situation. One of three juniors selected as first-team All-Americans in 2002, Young led Camarillo to the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division I championship with a .542-17-56 campaign. He completed the 2003 regular season hitting .544-7-28 after missing five games with a sprained ankle and rarely seeing strikes. After a slow start, the Scorpions (22-3) were undefeated after Young returned.

Young’s mature approach helped lead Team USA to a bronze medal at the World Junior Championship in Sherbrooke, Quebec last August. He posted team-best .513-9-18 totals in 38 at-bats in the seven-game event. His nine homers shattered the tournament record.

"He plays like a player much older than he is," said Team USA coach Edgar Soto, the coach at Pima (Ariz.) Community College. "He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played."

Young, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, hit .474-16-49 over the course of the summer to lead Team USA to a 25-4 record. For his efforts, he was selected Baseball America’s first Youth Baseball Player of the Year.

"If you just rate him on his tools, he has average major league power right now, without projecting, and an above-average arm," Lieberthal said. "And he’s going to get bigger and stronger. There are things he has that other kids don’t.

"He has all the intangibles, too. He is the whole package. He has things that you just can’t get better at."

In May Young was invited by the Devil Rays, who draft first, to Tropicana Field for a workout prior to a game against the Tigers, for whom Dmitri plays and who pick third overall. Delmon parked pitch after pitch into the outfield seats as his brother and front-office personnel for both teams looked on, undoubtedly impressed.

"He wasn’t intimidated at all," Dmitri said after going 3-for-5 in the game. "It was great to watch my brother put on a show for the Tigers and the Devil Rays. That meant more to me than anything."

Delmon responded to the showcasing as if it were just another ho-hum batting practice session.

"I felt like I just did all right," Young said with a sigh. "Everyone else said I did pretty well but I expect to be perfect and anything less than perfect isn’t OK."

Mature Approach To The Game

The pressure of performing in a major league park with big league executives and players watching closely would be enough to make many 17-year-olds crumble. Conversely, Young relies on his cool, calm demeanor to perform regardless of the situation.

"I look at it as no big deal," he said. "It’s just a nice high school field with about 40,000 more seats."

After observing countless hitting displays like the one in their own backyard, many have speculated the Devil Rays will make Young their choice. On the heels of 1999 first-overall selection Josh Hamilton’s decision to take the year off for personal reasons, the Devil Rays could be excused for shying away from another prep outfielder. Hamilton’s extended bout with personal issues and injuries have hit home throughout the organization, and Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks has garnered support as a wise selection, and one that might seem safer.

The caveat that supports selecting Young No. 1 is his off-the-charts makeup, reinforced by his well-grounded attitude influenced by his older brother.

"You can be on top of the world one day in baseball and the next no one remembers you," said Delmon, who signed with Arizona.

"(Dmitri’s) gotten me to think about the part of the game you can control, to work hard now and prepare yourself for pro ball."

Scouts that know Young on a personal level are confident he’ll be a star. Lieberthal scouted Southern California for 12 years and watched Dmitri play as a prep in the early 1990s. He knows Young’s family and offers lofty endorsements of Delmon.

"He’s a very humble kid who is extremely coachable," Lieberthal said. "He’s going to learn quickly because he’s going to listen."

And once Young arrives, Lieberthal feels certain his impact will be felt.

"He’s not a guy who’s not going to make some waves," he said. "He’s going to hit 35-40 home runs (in the majors) and maybe more.

"God gave him the ability to hit the baseball and you could see it when he was in junior high."

Young appears poised to be an impact player in whichever organization that chooses to draft him. June 3 will be a day for celebration in the Young household, as another family member becomes a first-round pick, but the wise-beyond-his-years Young is certain to keep things in perspective as he begins a new chapter in his career.

"It’s just one day of a whole process," he said philosophically. "I’ll be happy for about 10 minutes but it’s just a starting point. The first step of everything."

Contributing: Danny Knobler (Booth Newspapers).

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