Former Ray Young Off To Rough Start

Delmon Young

Delmon Young has not improved his approach at the plate in Minnesota, seemingly hacking at any pitch thrown his way. Young has struck out 32 times (compared to 17 walks), hitting just .258/.319/.328 without any home runs. While it is still far too early to properly evaluate this winter's trade involving the 22-year-old outfielder, the Rays appear to have gotten the upper-hand for 2008 alone.

Delmon Young has not improved his approach at the plate in Minnesota, seemingly hacking at any pitch thrown his way. In fact, Young has struck out 32 times (compared to only 17 walks), and has hit to the tune of .258/.319/.328, for a whopping OPS of .648. Just as telling, he has still yet to hit a home run as we inch closer to the All-Star break.

It is based on a small sample size, but the former number one overall pick really looks lost at the plate right now. His poor first impression in Minnesota was magnified by an 0-for-6, two-error performance against the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday, putting his consecutive games streak (217 at the time) into jeopardy the next night.

Young needs to improve from a plate discipline standpoint dramatically. Despite all of his natural ability, many scouts are now starting to wonder if he will ever to live up to the hype that has surrounded him since he was selected in the first round by Tampa Bay in 2003, as his power has been practically nonexistent the past two seasons. Some talent evaluators cite his failure to make the necessary adjustments to succeed at this level as a major issue as well. Over 969 career at-bats, has hit a grand total of 16 homers while posting a line of .286/.319/.400. Still just 22 years old, he obviously has a lot of time for improvement, but really needs to become more selective up at the dish. Although he has had to adjust to playing a new position, left field, when he was forced to move across the outfield to accommodate incumbent right fielder Michael Cuddyer, his lack of maturity--off-the-field issues aside--as a hitter appears to be a major cause for concern.

Perhaps it would be best for Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire to give Young a few days off to provide the young outfielder with a much-needed mental break from baseball. This is unlikely, though, given his infatuation with the streak.

Looking at the Trade

Here on May 28, 2008, it is way too early to evaluate the Rays' decision this offseason to ship Brendan Harris, Jason Pridie and Young to the Twins in exchange for Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza and Eduardo Morlan. The real verdict on this deal will not be revealed until long after 18-year-old Tampa Bay ball boy John Adams, fresh off a SportsCenter appearance for his excellent grab on Wednesday afternoon, has graduated from college.

Strictly looking at the exchange for 2008, though, Tampa Bay appears to have the upper hand at this juncture. We are not even in June yet, but let us look at the how each player involved in the deal is performing to this point.

Minnesota

Harris, whose range prevents him from playing the shortstop position effectively, has struggled at the plate as well, hitting .261/ .332/.345 as the Twins' starting second baseman.

Pridie, a throw-in, performed above his tool set last summer for Durham, posting an OPS of .914 for the Bulls in 63 games, and was a legitimate candidate to break camp with the Twins out of spring training. He has had his fair share of struggles this spring, however, having posted a line of .221/.267/.313 at Triple-A Rochester through Thursday.

Tampa Bay

Bartlett is off to a poor start at the plate, but has shored the Tampa Bay defense up the middle, providing the Rays with something they have lacked for years--a capable defensive shortstop. His addition to the infield is a big reason for the Rays' marked improvement defensively as a team. Whether evaluating his play in the field using traditional or sabermetric metrics, he is getting the job done. Compared to the other shortstops that have eaten up innings at the position for the Rays since 2007--Harris, Josh Wilson and Ben Zobrist--it is like night and day, as his excellent range allows him to routinely get to balls that consistently found their way through as base hits last season.

Garza, the centerpiece of the deal on the Tampa Bay side, struggled in his first few starts, but appears to be turning the corner. He delivered one of the strongest performances of his career yesterday in the Rays' 5-3 series-clinching win over the Texas Rangers, scattering four hits while striking out 10 over eight impressive innings. In his previous outing before that, he flashed signs of brilliance, tossing 7.1 shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles. The difference in his two most recent starts, though, has been his ability to work ahead of hitters, as he effectively fired strikes early in the count.

Through 52.1 innings overall, Garza is 4-1, with a 3.78 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, limiting hitters to a .247 batting average against him. He also ranks 18th in the American League for pitchers with more than 40.0 innings of work in opponents' OPS (.647). His K/B ratio (29-to-22), however, has been concerning, although that total was inflated by his 10-strikeout performance--thanks for the pizza, Matt--on Wednesday.

Morlan has a sore shoulder, and has been out of action for most of the season, making six appearances for the Montgomery Biscuits. Minor league guru John Sickels, though, ranked the hard-throwing right-hander number 45 in his pre-season list of the game's Top-50 pitching prospects.

Time will tell, but Garza is the one player who will eventually decide the fate of this deal for the Rays. Bartlett will not be in Tampa Bay for the long term, with Reid Brignac--or perhaps Tim Beckham or a free agent--on the way, as he will be easily replaceable in the back-end of his current deal. It all depends on whether or not the 25-year-old right-hander, a first-round pick out of Fresno State in 2005, can live up to his tremendous potential and avoid serious injury. If so, the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year in 2006 will solidify one of the most promising up-and-coming starting rotations well into the next decade, perhaps helping the Rays become a mainstay as a threat to compete in the American League East.

Combine that with Young's apparent refusal to make adjustments as a hitter, and Garza's future performance will perhaps end up making this winter's first blockbuster trade a steal of a deal. Again, though, only time will tell.

Radio Appearance May 31: On Saturday, May 31, Rays Digest writer Tyler Hissey will make an appearance on Sarasota Sunny 1220 talk radio to discuss the Tampa Bay Rays' hot start. Hissey will go into more detail on Young's poor start and offer his take on all of the latest news surrounding the first-place Rays on Sports Café with Sean Duade, beginning at 3:40. Click here to listen live.

You can reach Tyler Hissey by sending an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.

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