What happened to the 'superstar'?

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2009 - 9:02 PM

At 19, Delmon Young said he was destined for greatness. Now where is he going?

The perception of what the Twins were getting when they traded for Delmon Young on Nov. 28, 2007, and his reality as a hitter provides the greatest mystery we’ve had since David McCarty arrived in 1993.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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MLN Sports Zone is a magazine and website devoted to minor league sports. In July 2005, MLN released its Fab 50 for minor league ballplayers and rated Tampa Bay outfielder Delmon Young at No. 2, behind Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez.

The observations included: "... Delmon, still only 19, has proven himself one of the bright talents in the D-Rays farm system. He has often been compared to Albert Belle, albeit minus the attitude, for the way he attacks the ball."

Four years later, the actuality has been that Young compares far more favorably with Belle in attitude than in productivity.

The perception of what the Twins were getting when they traded for Young on Nov. 28, 2007, and his reality as a hitter provides the greatest mystery we've had since David McCarty arrived in 1993.

Two months after the Young trade was made, he showed for the TwinsFest weekend that included a promotional luncheon. Infielder Brendan Harris was also there and said of his teammate in Tampa Bay:

"What impressed me the most is that Delmon's so aggressive at the plate, yet with runners on base he's a very tough out. He's phenomenal with runners in scoring position. To me, that comes from his overall competitiveness."

As a 21-year-old, Young batted .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI for Tampa Bay. He was the runner-up as the American League's Rookie of the Year to Boston's Dustin Pedroia.

There were concerns, of course -- the 50-game suspension for tossing a bat at an International League umpire in 2006 and Tampa Bay's apparent giddiness in trading a No. 1 overall draft choice coming off a strong rookie season -- but the Twins took a generous view of Young's attitude.

A week into the 2008 exhibition schedule, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said: "He's very excited to be here. He's done everything we've asked. ... He's growing as a hitter, getting better and better."

Gardenhire said this sitting in his office at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. It didn't come off as PR but as genuine enthusiasm.

A few weeks into the '08 season, Gardenhire was reduced to hem-hawing and PR answers for Young. The Twins had found themselves with a messed-up hitter who had no interest in listening to batting coach Joe Vavra or anyone else.

Delmon's drop in production was substantial: 42 extra-base hits and 69 RBI compared to 51 and 93 a year earlier with Tampa Bay.

Gardenhire's true feelings about Young as a hitter, a fielder and a competitor came last December. He was at a function in Fargo, N.D., and told Mike McFeely, a sports columnist for The Forum newspaper in Fargo, that his plan for 2009 was a regular outfield of Denard Span, Carlos Gomez and Michael Cuddyer.

Gardenhire backtracked after that statement reached the Twin Cities, but the message was clear: One season of Young -- with Albert Belle attitude and Chad Allen production -- was about all the manager could stomach.

Gomez's futility as a hitter and now Span's mysterious dizziness have given Young stretches as a regular. There were also the 11 games that Young missed in early May when he was with his mother, Bonnie, as she was dying of cancer.

On Friday at Wrigley Field, Young had two hits. Both were for one base, putting his total at 33 singles among 36 hits, with 18 RBI in 140 at-bats.

Young made his sixth consecutive start in Saturday's 2-0 victory over the Cubs. He went 0-for-3 to put him at 8-for-23 in those starts.

You wonder what happened to the kid taken at the top of the '03 draft and when asked what type of player he would become responded, "A superstar."

How could that be a young man's mission, and six years later he's watching tape of a swing that's all arms and doesn't do anything about it? How can a hitter with the assets of strength and bat speed find himself apparently content with bouncing and fisted singles?

I don't get it. I don't understand.

Then again, I didn't understand when, as Twins followers, we panted over the minor league exploits of powerful, line-driving McCarty (taken No. 3 overall in the 1991 draft) and then celebrated his arrival in 1993, and he turned into a bust.

Sometimes, they simply are not what they seemed as young hitters. That was the case with McCarty, and perhaps it is the same deal with Young.

Maybe it's not the case of a hitter too stubborn to change a terrible approach. Maybe, once pitchers saw the flaws and adjusted, these few singles a week are all that Delmon Young has to offer.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. preusse@startribune.com

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