Where Does Delmon Young Fit in With Phils?
PHILADELPHIA--In one of his first comments as a Philadelphia Phillie, newly-minted outfielder Delmon Young cautioned against writing off the potential of last-man-on-the-roster types.
The story he told? That of Albert Pujols, who in 2001 made the Cardinals roster as a last-second big-league camp invitee.
Good to know that's where Young's head's at.
Young, 27, signed a one-year contract worth $750,000 with the Phillies on Tuesday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports Young can earn $3.5 million if he hits all of the deal's incentives.
Even for a guy who hit 18 home runs with 74 RBIs in 2012, has a career .284 batting average and was named Detroit's postseason MVP for his work this October, he's still not in Pujols stratosphere.
But his promise does make him the "low-risk, high-reward" type player general manager Ruben Amaro has said he's been looking for.
"It's a bit of a risk," Amaro said Tuesday. "But it's one we feel is low-risk, for what potentially he can do for us offensively."
The risk begins with Young's health. Young said Tuesday that he underwent microfracture surgery on his right ankle last November. He said he's feeling well and progressing. Amaro said Young will be working with Brett Fischer in Arizona, where second baseman Chase Utley is currently rehabbing his knees.
But Amaro said it's possible that Young opens the year on the DL.
That brings up risk No. 2.
Amaro said he hopes to slide Young back to right field, where Young says he's more comfortable. Only, Young hasn't played there since 2007 -- he's played in left through 2011 and mostly DH'ed in 2012. Last year, if his .962 fielding percentage qualified, it would've ranked worst among big-league left fielders, a position where defense isn't exactly top priority to begin with.
If Young won't be healthy until April -- or later -- that would obviously complicate evaluating his transition to a high-demand defensive spot that he hasn't played in over a half-decade.
"We’re not going to name him the starting right fielder for the Phillies," Amaro said on Tuesday. "But he’ll certainly have an opportunity to go and play there."
Young's transition also impacts Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf. Before, both were figured to enter spring training as competitors for two corner outfield spots. Now, there may be but one.
Brown has the skill set to play in left, even if his power -- just 5 home runs in 55 games in 2012 -- isn't ideal for that position. If Ruf makes the big-league roster, he'll do it as a left fielder.
"Brown and Ruf will be battling out in left field," Amaro said.
Of course, if both Brown and Ruf shine in Clearwater, the team's commitment to Young isn't prohibitively binding. Same goes for any unsavory off-field incidents like those of Young's past.
"We did a lot of due diligence on what kind of person he is," said Amaro. "The conclusion we came up with is he made a mistake and whatever is written about him in the past doesn’t really depict the kind of person he is. Obviously we want to have good character guys in our clubhouse and I think he’s going to be one."
If not, he can be cut. Easily.
Either way, the move covers Amaro's bases as best any one could. His other reported targets this offseason -- free agent Scott Hairston, 32, and the Angels' Vernon Wells, 34, and Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, 36 -- were all notably older and lacked Young's ceiling.
Wells and Soriano would've cost the Phillies as much as $4 million, with cash considerations, and prospects. Hariston has reportedly been seeking a two-year deal worth $8 million.
Young four times ranked in Baseball America's top five prospects.
Accolades haven't exactly followed him to the big leagues, though. According to Fangraphs, three of his last six seasons have been below so-called "replacement-level." Another was at "replacement-level." He has three times played at least 150 games, yet never hit more than 21 home runs in a single big-league season.
Young is confident that can change. He said he played "on one leg" in 2012, a time when his weight -- as he admitted -- ballooned to prohibitive proportions. Amaro said he's lost 20 pounds since last November, and when Young alluded to what surgery and diet mean for him, he alluded to "the next 10 to 15 years of my career."
Again: Good to know that's where his head's at.