Young fit, motivated to compete
Outfielder anticipates spring competition for starting spot
MINNEAPOLIS -- Delmon Young doesn't know exactly how the Twins' outfield situation will shake out for the 2009 season, considering that the team has four outfielders capable of starting in the Major Leagues.But despite all the talk surrounding him this offseason, Young believes that as of right now, he'll head into Spring Training as a Twin with the chance to earn one of those three starting spots. "I think everyone goes into [Spring Training] considering it a competition," Young said on Sunday during the club's annual TwinsFest. "Nothing is guaranteed out there. So you just go out there, play hard, work hard, and good things usually happen. It might not happen at the start of the season, but over the course of a season, good things happen." The Twins' outfield has been a hot topic all winter in Minnesota, and the outfielder who has drawn headlines is Young, who was acquired one year ago in a six-player trade that sent pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay. From the start of the offseason, there have been rumors that the Twins are trying to trade the 23-year-old Young. And then there were the comments made by manager Ron Gardenhire in December, when he told a Fargo, N.D., newspaper that he envisioned his starting outfield to be Denard Span, Carlos Gomez and Michael Cuddyer -- leaving Young, who played 151 games in left field last season, to appear to be the odd man out. Gardenhire has since changed his stance, saying that his four outfielders will decide who will start based upon their play in Spring Training. He also apologized publicly to Young during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas for making it seem as though the young outfielder might be out of the mix. Young doesn't have any bitter feelings about Gardenhire's comments. He said on Sunday that he and Gardenhire have talked since the incident and that there is no need for the topic to be addressed again. "Everything is smoothed out," Young said. "It really doesn't matter now." With the Twins exploring the market for a third baseman and late-inning bullpen options, there is a chance that an outfielder could yet be moved this offseason. But Young isn't thinking about that as he prepares to head to Fort Myers, Fla., for Spring Training. "You can't really worry about that, because you never know what deal might pop up -- there might be one that is too hard for a team not to take," he said. "You just have to come in ready to play for Minnesota, and if you happen to go play somewhere else, that's what you do."
Young's first season in Minnesota was considered somewhat of a disappointment by both himself and the organization, despite the fact that he batted .290 with 10 home runs and 69 RBIs in 152 games. His power numbers weren't quite what the team had hoped they would be, with him not hitting his first home run until June.But Young has tried not to dwell on what happened last season. "I just have to realize I was 22 last year," he said. "I've got a lot of buddies who are my age, and they are just getting out of college or just starting short-season [baseball], and I realize I was 22 in my second full season in the big leagues. The second year is often the toughest one, because the teams and pitchers had a better scouting report on me than in my first season. So it was tough at first making the adjustments, but I started to figure it out in the second half of the season." Young's production did pick up in the second half of 2008, even as he was forced to play through a right ankle injury over the final two months. That injury also limited Young's workouts and caused him to gain several pounds, so he has spent the winter working to get his body back in shape. Young took a few weeks off in October to rest his ankle and let it heal before returning to the gym. As he did last offseason, he has been working to add muscle and shed body fat at the Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, Calif. But instead of making the nearly 40-mile drive from his parents' home to the facility, as he did last year, he got his own apartment just down the street from the gym. With his ankle fully healed, Young has been able to do a little more intense training than he did even last offseason. He's dropped some pounds but is more focused on the overall change he's seen in his body. "I feel really good right now," he said. "At one point my body composition had changed a lot, but my weight stayed the same. Now, since we've been doing more power lifting the last month, the weight has been coming off. I just feel good." Despite missing the first two days of TwinsFest because of illness, Young flew in from Santa Barbara late on Saturday night to attend the final day of the event on Sunday. He'll end up traveling a total of eight hours to spend one day with fans, but he said it was worth it. It was also, perhaps, a small step by Young in showing the Twins his level of dedication to the organization. The Twins had some concerns at times last season with Young's unwillingness to listen to the coaching staff. In December, Gardenhire described Young as "a little more stubborn than some of the guys" and said that all he wanted of Young was for "him to flow into our program and understand what we are all about." Young appears to be adopting at least one part of the Twins' philosophy by taking a team-first attitude when it comes to the outfield race. He said on Sunday that he thinks having four quality outfielders is a good thing for the ballclub, and that having the extra competition can only motivate him to make the most out of his abilities. And though he undoubtedly wants to come out of Spring Training with one of the starting spots, he is trying to view the situation in an optimistic light whichever way it turns out. "I was there in 2007 in Tampa Bay when Carlos Pena got cut, Greg Norton got hurt hours later and Pena was back on the team for Opening Day. Pena didn't really play the first month, and then he ends up with the season he had that year," Young said in reference to Pena's 46 home runs and 121 RBIs for Tampa Bay that year. "So it doesn't necessarily mean you have to start the season on Day 1. Just as long as you get in there with quality, consistent at-bats over the course of a season, everything will work out."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.