New outfielder shows it's good to be Young

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2008 - 12:25 PM

Delmon Young has taken advantage of the fresh start the Twins have offered him, proving to be a gifted hitter as well as a good teammate.

JUPITER, FLA. - Delmon Young is getting a second chance to make a first impression.

The Twins' new left fielder has landed with a team determined to give him every advantage. After five weeks in a Twins uniform this spring, the reviews in camp seem unanimously positive.

"He's been fantastic," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's finally starting to loosen up a bit. He was pretty serious for a while there. We couldn't get too many smiles out of him.

"He's been great. He's worked his tail off. He wants to stay in the games. He doesn't like to come out. And he can really hit."

Hitting coach Joe Vavra: "He's been a great person to be around. He's a sponge. I can see nothing but great things for him."

Right fielder Michael Cuddyer: "All I had to go on was what I had heard, and he's been nothing like what I'd heard. He's been a great teammate. He's the first guy, when he's not playing, to get off the bench and give you a high-five. I don't see how anybody said what they said about him unless he's the greatest actor in the world. He's a great teammate."

Second baseman Brendan Harris, Young's teammate last year with Tampa Bay as well: "I think he'll be fine. People make more of the baggage than what was really the case. Delmon can play, Delmon can hit and he'll be fine anywhere."

Twins prospect Trevor Plouffe, a friend of Young's: "I think this is exactly what he needed, a change of scenery. I don't know what went on in that [Tampa Bay's] clubhouse, but I know being surrounded by the guys in this clubhouse, the class-act guys like the Mauers, the Morneaus, the Cuddyers, it's only going to rub off on him. He's a good person as is, but being around these people, he can only be better."

None of which means we should engage in revisionism. As a teenager in the Rays system, Young proved petulant, complaining about his advancement through the minors and once flipping a bat and hitting an umpire.

Last year, at 21, he played in 162 games, a testament to his work ethic and desire. Then the Rays, an organization desperate for a winning season, traded him even though he's a former No. 1 overall pick who has been compared, however unwisely and prematurely, to Frank Robinson.

Now Young is close to entering his first season with a franchise that has done all it can to make him feel comfortable and valued. The Twins have had Rod Carew and Tony Oliva, along with Vavra, work with him. Gardenhire and his teammates have raved about him. Cuddyer has emphasized the so-called "Twins way," meaning running out ground balls and breaking up double plays.

Thursday night, Young singled but didn't take out an infielder on a double play. Cuddyer said their conversation was brief. "I said, 'Way to hit, but you've got to kill that guy,' " Cuddyer said. "You talk about mentors and all that stuff, but you know what? You've got to listen. You've got to be able to accept it, and he's been great with that."

This is a wonderful time to be Delmon Young. He's 22, displays the bat speed of a superstar, is locked into an everyday job, and finds himself surrounded by supportive teammates and staff.

Saturday, he went 0-for-3 with two sacrifice flies vs. St. Louis. He is hitting .311 with nine RBI in 45 at-bats this spring. More important, he has received the gift of the erased slate.

"It's been cool here," he said. "You've got an MVP and a batting champ. Gardy's a great guy, fun to be around. Cuddy has taken me under his wing. It's a great environment.

"All they expect out of me is to come play baseball and have fun."

Even Young's aggressiveness at the plate fits in well. In Boston, New York or Oakland, the approach might elicit frowns, but two of the great Twins were Oliva and Kirby Puckett, who, like Young, believed in swinging early and often.

Have the Twins talked to Young about his approach? He smiled and said, "They just want me to drive in runs."

Young is set up to succeed at that and more. If he doesn't become an All-Star in the next couple of years, he will have no one to blame but himself.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

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