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FORT MYERS, FLA. - Justin Morneau noticed Delmon Young's constant texts filled with excitement about the upcoming season. Bill Smith noticed Young running from the Twins' clubhouse to the weight room, instead of waiting for the golf cart most players ride.
Ron Gardenhire noticed Young smacking a ball into the gap this week and sprinting for a triple. Michael Cuddyer noticed Young's dramatic weight loss. And Trevor Plouffe, perhaps Young's closest friend in the Twins' organization, noticed a newfound "maturity.''
Young, the Twins' still young, still promising outfielder, looks transformed this spring, after a season in which he had to fight for playing time while mourning his mother's death.
Winter diets and workouts don't always translate to summer production, but Young has earned points throughout the organization for his work ethic and attitude.
"I just feel like I'll play like I'm supposed to play this year,'' Young said Thursday night.
Plouffe, the Twins' shortstop prospect, said Young admitted to feeling the effects of playing with excess weight last year "for the first time.''
"He wasn't running like he wanted to,'' Plouffe said. "He wasn't getting jumps on fly balls like he wanted to. I saw him leg out a triple the other day, and he was really moving. He's running to first base hard. He looks like he's 19 or 20 again.
"He's going to have a big year. He's always worked hard, but this year I think the difference was the change in his diet and his strict regimen.''
Young said his weight loss was partly because of an illness. "Whatever he did,'' Cuddyer said, "he looks great.''
When the Twins traded Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee, they essentially handed left field to Young, who has not produced in his two seasons as a Twin the way he did as a rookie with Tampa Bay. The Twins are hoping that at 24, Young is ready to fulfill his considerable promise.
"He's been texting me all winter,'' Morneau said. "He's really excited about this season. Sometimes you forget how young he is. Nothing against Danny Valencia, but Delmon is younger than Valencia, and Valencia is our top prospect as a position player, and Delmon has three years in the big leagues already.
"My best year didn't come until I was 24 or 25. Same with Jason Kubel. Sometimes it takes guys a while to feel comfortable, and it looks like he's comfortable and driven and wants to be the player everybody thinks he can be.''
Young's mother died in May after a long fight with cancer.
"I didn't really want to be at the ballpark all day, especially when we were losing,'' Young said. "It didn't make it much fun. It was the last year we were going to have our whole family together. Baseball, I knew, would always be here if you played your cards right.
"It was hard, but it was good having a great support system of the team and family and friends.''
Young's career batting average of .290 indicates his ability to make contact; his career on-base percentage of .322 indicates his lack of patience. He said with Gomez gone, he plans to be more selective.
"When you start playing every day, you know you can take an O-fer and you'll still be in there the next day, instead of trying to just see the first one that looks good and trying to get a hit because Gomez got two hits that day and trumped your two,'' Young said.
Spring training appearances can be deceiving, but Young looks lean and hungry, he's hustling and pulling the ball with authority in batting practice.
"I think the beginning of last season was tough because he had to show up and play, but his Mom was in the back of his mind,'' Plouffe said. "Once he went home after the season and it was all over with, I don't want to say it was a relief for him, but he didn't have to worry about not being there for her.
"He came back with a new attitude and a new outlook on life. For some people, it would really bring them down. I think he's grown from it and matured, and that's a neat thing to see.''
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org