The trade that sent Delmon Young from the Twins to the Tigers looked like a steal last fall. Now, Young seems bent on turning it into an even bigger coup for Detroit.
"He looks good, he's swinging good, he feels good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said near the end of spring training. "I think he's on a mission."
Although he has started the season hitting .250, Young batted .381 with six homers and 21 RBI during the exhibition schedule after returning to the Tigers on a one-year, $6.75 million deal. He's eligible for free agency at season's end and turns 27 in September.
"He just seems like an all-around better hitter, which is saying a lot because he was a very good hitter," said Tigers pitcher and reigning American League MVP Justin Verlander. "I think he might be one of the most overlooked pieces to this team. Hopefully that's not the case as the season goes on."
The Twins had big hopes for Young when they acquired him from Tampa Bay in the 2007 trade that sent Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza to the Rays. Most of Young's four-year stint in Minnesota was disappointing, except for 2010, when he batted .298 with 21 homers and 112 RBI.
Last year, Young battled injuries with the Twins. He had a strained toe in spring training and then had stints on the disabled list because of a strained oblique muscle and a sprained ankle.
By August, the Twins decided they would non-tender him at season's end rather than pay him another raise through arbitration. Instead of letting him go for nothing, they sent him to the Tigers for relievers Lester Oliveros (now in Class AA) and Cole Nelson (Class A).
Young's season literally changed overnight. On Aug. 13, he batted eighth for a Twins team that would finish 63-99. The next day, he was on the bus with the Twins -- heading to Detroit's Comerica Park -- when he learned he was switching uniforms. Leyland called to tell him he'd be batting third every day for the Tigers, in front of eventual batting champion Miguel Cabrera.
"He told me I didn't even have to look at the lineup card," Young said. "I was like, really? I appreciated that one, just knowing I could go out there and take a bad game with a good game and still be back out there."
In 84 games with the Twins, Young batted .266 with four homers and 32 RBI.
And in 49 games (including postseason) with the Tigers, he batted .267 with 13 homers and 38 RBI. Five of those home runs came in the postseason, and he was praised for trying to play through another oblique injury during the AL Championship Series loss to Texas.
Explaining his power surge, Young said Comerica Park suits him better than Target Field.
"You just know if you juice a ball to right field at Comerica, it's going to go [for a home run]," he said. "Righthanders aren't going to hit a ball over [that tall right-field wall at Target Field] a whole lot. You'd tattoo a ball and head back to the dugout shaking your head."
Young is batting fifth this year, right behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Young isn't the first Tiger they've stolen from a division rival. In 2010, they traded for Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta and watched him become a first-time All-Star last year.
"They do a very good job with the guys that they've seen play a lot," Young said. "Maybe for us, it was just the rejuvenation you need, just to get a change of scenery."