Young embraces utility role, future with Rangers
Veteran leader working out at shortstop, ready to play anywhere
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Michael Young has been taking grounders at shortstop lately. He may play there on Thursday in the first intrasquad game if Elvis Andrus is still sidelined with a bad left heel."It's fun," Young said. "Obviously I need more reps, but I just want to make sure my eyes get adjusted to the different reads and angles. But my hands feel good and my arm feels good over there. I'm just excited about anything that will give the team some options." Young did that last year in his much-discussed role as "super utility infielder." The move, which came after the signing of third baseman Adrian Beltre, led to some hard feelings and a clash of wills between Young and the organization at the beginning of Spring Training. But after the initial storm passed, Young stopped talking about it, accepted the challenge and embraced the role. Nobody was quite sure how it was going to play out, but the final results were probably better than anybody expected. That includes Young, who appears content that this will be his role with the Rangers moving forward.
"I enjoyed it actually," Young said. "It made me feel like a kid again, walking into the clubhouse and seeing what position I was playing that day. The only thing that is different is not being able to put all my work into one spot and be able to focus on that. It was a challenge I embraced, and I felt it paid important dividends for the team. That's the most important thing."Young certainly had one of his best offensive seasons, with a career-high .338 batting average and 106 RBIs along with 88 runs scored, 41 doubles, six triples and 11 home runs. He had a .380 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage. On the defensive side, he played 36 games at first base, 14 at second and 40 at third, mainly when Beltre went down at the end of July for five weeks with a strained left hamstring. He also had 69 starts as the designated hitter. "I thought it worked well," manager Ron Washington said. "He's a very talented guy, and I thought it kept him strong. He did a great job." There is no doubt that Young still wants to be on the field as much as possible. There is also no doubt he feels he can still be an everyday position player in the field. But he said that he has other priorities. "I'm very comfortable with my role," Young said. "My hope is always to be with a championship team and a bunch of great teammates. I have that here. I couldn't ask for a better situation. "I'm definitely not the typical DH. I'm 200 pounds, I am not 240-250 pounds and can't move. I run the same way I did as a rookie in 2001. If I stay healthy and stay durable, at the end of the day those things will take care of itself." He has the power to change his situation in two years. Young could be a free agent after the 2013 season. That could afford him the opportunity to go play for another team that would give him an everyday position in the field. Young does not view free agency that way. "It's no secret that I want to always be a Ranger," Young said. "That's not an issue with me at all. One thing about my career is I've always focused on the short term. I don't look too far ahead. I'm doing what I can to help this organization win a championship. Those things will take care of themselves." So he will remain a utility player for the future and have his time in the field dictated by the whims of the manager. His teammates' health will also factor into his field time. "My job is to make sure I'm ready," Young said. "Hopefully nobody gets hurt. I would love to see what this team could do if we all stay on the field. Wash will give guys time off early in the season to keep guys fresh, but our team is capable of big things if we all stay on the field. "I have great confidence in this team. I love my teammates, and I'm playing for a championship-caliber team. I take great pride in giving my team options defensively. That's one of the things that helped us go so far last year. Great depth is always good for any team." Young won an American League Gold Glove Award at shortstop in 2008 before being moved to third base to make room for Andrus. He played one game there late last year just so he could be prepared in case of emergency during the playoffs. The Rangers are still looking for a utility infielder who can play shortstop in case Andrus needs a day off or goes down with an injury. But Washington wants Young to be able to play there as well, so he will get time at the position in Spring Training. "We need to make sure we use every talent he has," Washington said. "We kept him off shortstop for three years, and now we've decided to get him acclimated again. He needs to be able to play there." Young can play every infield position and has learned to enjoy it. The Rangers' team leader pushes on.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.