Jim Souhan: Muscular singles hitter not what we had in mind

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2008 - 6:01 PM

Touted as a power hitter, Delmon Young is gettting outslugged by almost all of his new Twins teammates.

Delmon Young hit one of his many singles on Monday against the Boston Red Sox.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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The Twins acquired five everyday players to enliven their lineup for the 2008 season -- Brendan Harris, Adam Everett, Mike Lamb, Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young.

Harris, Everett and Lamb were asked to be solid, regular players in the infield, with Harris and Lamb improving the run production at their positions and Everett helping manager Ron Gardenhire sleep at night by making all of the plays at short.

Gomez was touted as a mercurial talent who could emerge as a dynamic player. Young was the surest thing among the newcomers, a problematic personality with an All-Star's bat, perhaps even a future MVP.

About a quarter of the way through their first year in Twinstripes, Harris still is learning to turn the double play; Everett and Lamb are failing to match Nick Punto's production; and Gomez is as raw, talented and entertaining as advertised.

Of the Flawed Five, Gomez is easily the best, and Young easily the biggest disappointment.

Through 40 games, Young has amassed 152 at-bats, batting .263. He has produced four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.

Four extra-base hits. That's one more than Punto, who has 49 at-bats. That's fewer than such noted sluggers as Everett (five in 58 at-bats), Harris (eight in 125), Lamb (six in 112) and Matt Tolbert (six in 83).

This is a strange phenomenon -- a big, strong player with impressive bat speed whose career will be judged on his power and run production, swinging like a tennis player attempting a drop shot.

We have seen versions of this before. A.J. Pierzynski is a powerful athlete, yet he specialized in opposite-field Texas Leaguers when he first arrived in the majors. Joe Mauer is 6-5 and exceptionally coordinated, yet he has not hit a home run this year.

But Pierzynski and Mauer have always had the ability to drive the ball into the gaps. Pierzynski developed power as he matured, and Mauer draws walks and takes professional at-bats.

Young is succeeding at neither of the key measures of a hitter's proficiency -- slugging percentage (it's .296, lower than Everett's) or on-base percentage (.309). These are the kinds of numbers that get a utility infielder released.

Remember Twins fans complaining about Punto last season? Well, Punto had a slugging percentage of .347 in 2007, 51 points higher than Young's this year. Arizona pitcher Micah Owings' slugging percentage this year is .556, almost twice Young's.

This is beyond alarming. This is approaching pathetic.

Last year, Young hit 38 doubles and 13 homers in 645 at-bats while playing most of the season at the age of 21. His slugging percentage was .408.

Playing in the Metrodome, with its large left field, could explain the power decline, but Young's problem has not been warning-track outs -- it has been getting the ball out of the infield. He rarely pulls the ball, and when he does, he does not do so with authority.

He has taken the concept of the "inside-out" swing -- à la Mauer -- to a ridiculous degree, dragging the bathead through the hitting zone so belatedly that his hits can only be ground balls up the middle and bloops to right field.

Much has been made of Young's reluctance to accept coaching, but that's not the problem. Plenty of good big-league hitters enlist their own private hitting coaches. It is the hitter's responsibility to find what works for him.

Thursday, the Twins calmed the good vibrations of their series victory over the Red Sox by getting swept by a struggling Toronto team, and Young went 0-for-4 with four groundouts.

In the 11th, Young came up with the Twins trailing by one, facing Blue Jays lefty B.J. Ryan. Ryan threw two fastballs up in the zone. Young fouled them both off, then grounded to short.

Young has played in 205 consecutive games. Might he require, or deserve, a day on the bench? "He likes to play," Gardenhire said. "He's here to play, and we'll see how long we can ride with it."

Or Gardenhire could play Craig Monroe in left for a few days, and see if the rest enlivens Young's powerless bat.

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

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