Strong And Steady Young Makes Statement

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.--There are a lot of ways to describe Delmon Young's rookie season with the Devil Rays.

For now, manager Joe Maddon chooses simple words such as "steady" and "consistent." But come November, Maddon hopes a different phrase is applicable: American League rookie of the year.

"I think he absolutely deserves that award," Maddon said. "You look at the whole picture, you tie this whole thing into a nice little bundle I think it equals rookie of the year.

"Everybody just wants to talk about offense. Talk about his defense, his stolen bases this year. He's a very good baserunner. He's playing a complete game for us right now."

Even Young's primary competition for AL ROY honors, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, said Young is worthy of the award. "Oh yeah, he's had a heck of a year, not only offensively, but out in right field he makes some great plays," Pedroia said. "There's definitely no flaw in his game."

Young shrugs off questions about the award, much as he does other queries, saying—politely it should be pointed out—he can't do anything about it since it's up to the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and that he'd "rather win a World Series ring than any award."

Strong And Steady

Young has made his statement on the field, recovering from a midseason slump to finish strong and present some impressive credentials.

He finished the season .288/.316/.408 and led all major league rookies in hits (186) and RBIs (93) and second in doubles (38). He finished in the top six in just about every other offensive category, with 13 home runs, 65 runs, 51 extra-base hits and 10 steals. Plus, he was fifth in assists among all major league outfielders with 16.

It's the kind of season, Maddon said, you'd like "out of a lot of 30-year-olds that have been playing for several years."

"I'd say he's been steady," Maddon said. "He started out pretty well, then he hit that rough spot and got down to .230-.240, and then all of a sudden he started to put it together again. I'd say consistent is the best way to describe it.

"I think if you look at the entire body of work, it's pretty impressive. The average, the runs, the defense, all that kind of stuff for basically a 21-year-old player I think is very impressive.

"I wouldn't describe it as spectacular as much as I would very consistent and definitely what I would consider deserving of the American League rookie of the year award."

Pedroia may take home the hardware because of his contribution to a first-place team in a big market. However Maddon points out that Young has played every game, moving from right field to center when needed, and has batted everywhere from third to seventh on a last-place team that provides little protection in the lineup.

"I don't know when the last time a rookie of the year candidate played every game of the season," Maddon said. "Sometimes people overlook that as being important. Whenever you can rely on one guy to go out there every day to play the position at that level it matters to the whole team. And he plays it fresh every day."

Young certainly has areas to improve on. He still swings at the first pitch too often, a major league most 52.4 percent of the time, and doesn't take enough pitches overall, a paltry 37.8 percent. And though he has what the Rays consider tremendous power, his lack of selectiveness results in swinging early in counts instead of waiting for a pitch to drive.

Those shortcomings were highlighted during a late-April slump that extended into May in which he went 7-for-51 over a 14-game stretch in which he managed just two extra-base hits and saw his average dip to .222. Young showed the slump wasn't for long by turning in three consecutive two-hit games—including a two-homer night against the Rangers—and went on to hit in 12 of his next 14 games.  

"The more I watch him, the more I really believe the power is going to show up in the games," Maddon said.

"You watch him in batting practice and he has enormous power. He's got to be more selective . . . And when he gets more experience you're going to see that more on a consistent basis."

What's good for the Rays is that Young knows this, and understands he is going to get better with age, so he isn't too concerned with this season's performance.

"It's all right," he said. "It's the first year so that doesn't really matter. You just try to come out and put a strong season together and help your team win. The numbers are going to come eventually as you get older and more mature and see how the game is played.

"It's rare for guys to come in for the first full season and just do Albert Pujols or Ryan Braun kind of stuff."

The Rays have also been pleased with the way Young has behaved. A reputation for surliness preceded him to the majors, as did a highly publicized confrontation that earned him a 50-game suspension for tossing a bat at an umpire. Young has handled the major league spotlight well and, except for occasionally declining an interview, the season has gone by incident-free.

"I like the way he has handled himself in general," Maddon said.

Young takes more of a bigger-picture view, saying he has been encouraged by the team's play over the last two months and is confident better things could be ahead.

"The club we've got right now is very good and it would've been nice if we had it the way it is now to start the season and see what we could have done for a full season," he said. "It'll be nice to see if we can make a couple acquisitions in the offseason and try to put together a very strong Tampa team next year."

Young, who turned 22 in September, will be a big part of that for years to come.

"I'm really pleased with what he's done. It's a great first step for him," Maddon said. "By the time he's 25, it could be real scary in a positive way."