Torii Hunter hit .231 with eight home runs and 56 RBI at Class AA New Britain in 1997, the year he turned 22. Delmon Young batted .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI for Tampa Bay in 2007, the year he turned 22.

This would seem to be strong evidence that Young is well ahead of Torii's curve when it comes to developing into a righthanded hitter of All-Star caliber in the American League.

This game -- as with all team sports -- is one in which veterans move along and younger players move in, and the issue becomes the quality of the replacements.

Twins followers now have the choice of continuing to lament the departure of the productive, gregarious Hunter, or to be optimistic that the Twins were aggressive in finding a righthanded hitter of outstanding potential to replace him in the batting order, if not in center field.

Young was the No. 1 overall selection by Tampa Bay in the draft of June 2003. It was late September when he signed with the Devil Rays -- a five-year deal that kicked in for the 2004 season.

This was a major league contract, meaning that Young went immediately to the Devil Rays' 40-player roster. The total package was $5.8 million, with $3.7 million upfront. The Twins have inherited the final installment -- $700,000 -- as Young's contract for this season.

"The main advantage for a drafted player when he gets a major league contract is that it uses up his options," said Rob Antony, the Twins assistant general manager. "Delmon has used three of his four options to the minors. We don't think that's going to be an issue."

Neither does Brendan Harris, the infielder who also arrived in the Twins-Rays trade.

"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," Harris said. "He's phenomenal with runners in scoring position. To me, that comes from his overall competitiveness."

According to Mike Schypers, that trait was obvious in Young when he was a preschooler. Schypers is a teacher in Simi Valley, Calif. He's also a referee in big-time college basketball, working up to a regional final last spring in the NCAA tournament.

The Schypers and Young families lived in Camarillo, Calif. The families, as well as sons Brett and Delmon, became close friends.

"I used to run a batting cage," Schypers said. "Larry [Young] would bring Delmon. The boys were 5 years old and hitting off a machine set at 40 miles per hour ... set for boys 8, 9, 10. The game was to hit the ball over the blue line in the air. Delmon was always going for that blue line.

"By age 12, he was a man-child ... just harder physically than everyone else. He's always been special.

"I've known him for so long, and I guarantee that Delmon is a future All-Star. I say that because I've never seen him not succeed in a big way, regardless of the level."

Delmon's first minor league season was spent as an 18-year-old in Class A. He batted .320, with 25 homers, 115 RBI and was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year.

He was a 19-year-old in Class AAA for the final two months in 2005. He was back at Class AAA Durham in 2006, when he made the infamous bat toss that hit a replacement umpire in the chest.

The International League suspended him for 50 games. He didn't protest the punishment then, and makes no protest now.

"It was a terrible mistake," he said Friday. "I take full responsibility. I always have."

Young showed considerable enthusiasm for being with this new team during the media interviews at TwinsFest. Better yet, he showed that to his new teammates.

"Just talking to him, you can sense how much he wants to win," Michael Cuddyer said. "And, with the questions he asked, you know he wants to be a great teammate. We go about our business a certain way, and Delmon wants to be part of that."

Fresh start at age 22? "Yeah, how about that," Cuddyer said.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •