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Continued: Delmon Young's raw talent matures into ability to hit to whole field

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 23, 2010 - 7:22 AM

MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Brewers held the second pick in the 2003 draft. Two players with tremendous bat speed were sure to go in the first two slots -- Southern University infielder Rickie Weeks, and California high school outfielder Delmon Young.

Before the draft, Young flew to Milwaukee to take batting practice at Miller Park. Twins fans will not be surprised to hear that Young concentrated on smacking the ball to right field. They might be surprised to hear where those balls landed.

"It was an unbelievable show," said Brewers Director of Baseball Operations Tom Flanagan. "He came in early on a Sunday morning, and he was pummeling balls, putting dents into mostly the right-center and right field seats. He kept seemingly hitting them further and further, and somebody asked him what he was trying to do, because he was consciously going to the right side, and usually kids that age like pulling the ball as far as they can, just jacking the ball.

"He was on a mission to put one into the upper deck in right field. Eventually, he did."

Tampa Bay took Young with the first pick in that draft, and the Brewers took Weeks. Both were in the starting lineups at Miller Park on Tuesday night when the Twins lost to the Brewers 7-5, and both have driven the ball this season with the authority that made them so promising seven summers ago.

Young, in particular, has been a revelation. Tuesday, he went 2-for-4 with a two-run double in the eighth that cut the Brewers' lead to two. He's hitting .310 with a .346 on-base percentage, a .507 slugging percentage and 45 RBI, and is hitting .376 since May 21.

After spending his first two years as a Twin flipping soft hits to the right side of the diamond, Young has begun punishing inside pitches and peppering the left field wall and bleachers, although his double on Tuesday headed toward those familiar right field bleachers.

"It's always been there," he said of his ability to drive the ball all over the park. "You've just got to have some luck."

Young has offered similar explanations to his manager, who isn't buying it. "I think he's definitely busted out this year as far as using the whole field better," Ron Gardenhire said. "In batting practice, we'd see him hit it 10,000 miles to left, then in the game it was more up the middle and going the other way.

"He's learned to click on the ball better now, and jerk the crap out of it, and look for pitches in situations, so I think it's just the maturity process of more at-bats and figuring out what you can do and can't do."

Was it his mechanics or mentality that prevented him from pulling the ball? "I think it was his approach," Gardenhire said. "You have to make adjustments in your approach sometimes. There were a few mechanical things he's had to work on. He'll tell you, 'No,' but we all know different."

Jason Kubel is the current Twin who has known Young the longest, since they played high school baseball against each other. "The first thing is, he's in the lineup every day, and that helps," Kubel said. "He's using the whole field, and he's really driving balls. I've known him since high school and that's what he's always done. So it's good to see him back doing that.

"He has a tremendous amount of talent, but as we get older, we start learning the league more and what we need to do, and I think you add that to his talent and who knows? He's still getting better. Each year could be better from here on, too.

"This isn't close to what he can do. We all know he's a good hitter, but now he's starting to use it all in the game, and that's pretty fun to watch."

Young doesn't like to admit it, but he's a different player this year -- leaner, faster, more attentive, more powerful, more polished.

Kubel's right. Young is pretty fun to watch, and this might be only the beginning for the kid who peppered the Miller Park bleachers back in 2003, and is threatening them this week.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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