Going incognito: Young likes low profile
Tigers slugger overlooked, but continuing to produce
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Pair up Miguel Cabrera with Prince Fielder, add some buzz to Brennan Boesch's spring, and throw in some intrigue on Austin Jackson and Alex Avila, and Delmon Young easily gets overlooked in the Tigers' star-studded lineup.
Delmon Young wouldn't mind keeping it that way.
"I want to keep flying under the radar," he said Thursday.
The more he hits like this, the more balls fly like his home run onto the left-field boardwalk at Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday, the tougher that's going to be.
For someone entering a contract year at age 26 with the chance at a long-term deal on the free-agent market next winter, Young isn't building up a dramatic storyline. He isn't up for a biography. He isn't making much of anything out of his two home runs in four big league games so far this spring, or the other shots he barely missed.
He isn't going to pretend he's locked in at the plate, not a week into Spring Training games.
"You can get hits in Spring Training, especially early," Young said. "You could see with [David] Price and [Jeremy] Hellickson, they're just working on fastball location right now. They weren't mixing in breaking balls or anything. Spring stats can be misleading when you have guys that can come up in the first week against a lot of fastballs and hit the cover off the ball. Then when the season comes around, when they mix it up and the lights come on, then you see the real hitters."
He doesn't have to hype. His teammates will do it for him.
"He's ready," Cabrera declared.
So will his manager.
"I think he's in for a potentially big year," Jim Leyland said.
Leyland is a fan of the free market and what it can do for his team. He's a proponent for players gearing up for their last year before free agency. He predicted a big year from Fernando Rodney in 2009, and he got it, and it helped propel the Tigers to a tiebreaker for the AL Central that year.
Young isn't biting on it.
"It's a contract year every year you're playing in the big leagues, not just because it's your last year," he said. "There's guys that have been injured the last year [before free agency] and still do well because of the track record of their first five years. It's a contract year every year. Your production, it's not just your one year they look up. They look up your overall collection. [Prince Fielder] and [Albert] Pujols put up, before they went on the market, impressive resumes."
In other words, Young wants to be able to point to the 6 1/2-year body of work since he broke into the big leagues at age 20, not just the final year he posts. Even with that reasoning, though, this becomes his last chance to bulk up his resume before hitting the open market.
He might not be locked in, but he's preparing himself for the chance.
While the Tigers benefited from some wind-aided home runs in their nine-homer barrage on Braves pitching Sunday, Young's shot wasn't one of them. The wind that day was blowing across the field and out to right field, but Young hit his into the teeth of the wind in left and still got it out.
His home run Thursday off Rays lefty Cesar Ramos wasn't nearly as suspenseful. It cleared the Tigers bullpen beyond the left-field fence and found its way onto the boardwalk overlooking it. He drove in Cabrera following his steal of third base, and Avila following his walk.
"The pitchers haven't started throwing breaking balls," Young cautioned. "A lot of at-bats you're going to get during the season with a runner in scoring position, they might just nitpick down the way and throw you all breaking balls and stuff. Right now, these guys that have guaranteed spots on the team are just working on getting themselves ready. They're getting their fastball location and then working on their third pitch. If this was the season, Price would've been throwing cutters, changeups, curveballs. Right now, they're just getting their arm stretched out."
That's fine. But as Cabrera pointed out on that windy Sunday when balls were carrying over the fence, they still have to hit them. And as Leyland pointed out when explaining his team's stingy pitching, this is still a time when pitchers tend to be further along in their work than the hitters.
A big spring from Young will get noticed, both on the schedule and eventually on the market. The better Young hits, both this spring and early in the season, the more risk opponents take pitching around Fielder in the lineup.
Young's approach doesn't change, batting after Cabrera and Fielder compared to last year, when he hit in front of Cabrera. He's still trying to drive in runs. His goal right now is to time himself to be ready for it.
"With veterans, you're just trying to get a feel for yourself," Young said. "Some guys need 30 at-bats. Some guys need 60. Some guys need 70. As long as you feel good when the season starts."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.