Delmon Young Springs Eternal

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Delmon Young signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week, continuing to live on the promise that made him a top prospect. But is there any hope for him?

Delmon Young is only 28. Think about that for a moment. I mean, sure, we've all made the jokes, remarking how Young is the living example of the man with two legs in the afternoon and three in evening, how his routes in the outfield are like an old man trying to remember how he got home, how his wild flailing at balls out of the strike zone--you get the idea.

But 28, even in baseball terms, is young. There's a future for a 28-year-old. 28-year-old players are often considered to be in the prime of their careers, so even if Delmon Young isn't in the prime of his, surely there's some utility there. I mean, if David Ortiz can have a triumphant 30 home run season at the age of 37, Delmon Young must have something left at 28.

Dan Duquette wants to feel the same way, saying after the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal:

"He's still only 28 years old. But the thing he does well is he can hit when you need a hit in the playoffs and he has a very good record over his entire career against left-handed pitching. ... Delmon is still a young guy. He is still relatively young. He still has good ability and some things he can do well to help the team."

Even then, couching his remarks with "relatively," Duquette repeats the word "young" over and over, like a mantra or a wish, hoping that he could not only de-age Delmon, but himself in the process, bringing him back to those halcyon days spent fiddling with blades of grass on Martha's Vineyard.

The point is, there's enough left of Delmon Young to dream on.

Ten years after being drafted and with 3,900 major league plate appearances to his name, there is still that gift inside of Young that few players ever possess. Even after hitting a mere .264/.300/.410 over the last two seasons with only slightly more mobility than Hector Salamanca, the hope is still there, Young showing flashes of it, whether it's the 21 HR he hit in 2010 with the Twins, or his absurd 2011 and '12 postseasons with the Tigers, hitting 8 home runs in only 88 plate appearances. Even last year, Young's 62 at-bats with the Rays at the end of last season showcased power and patience, perhaps for the first time in his career. These are the little teases of the player so coveted a decade ago.

From 2004-2007, Delmon Young was rated as Baseball America's third, third, first, and third best prospect in the game. Think about that: every year, for four years, scouts studied Delmon Young, trying to decode his weaknesses, and they were so small, so minute when compared against his talent, he continued to rank at the top of the list. He had the best arm, best contact hitter, and best power hitter in the Rays system, he was the top prospect in four different leagues.

In 2006, when Young was ranked as the top prospect by Baseball America, this was his scouting report ($$):

"His knowledge of the strike zone is advanced for his age, and coupled with his bat control allows him to make repeated hard contact. He's strong enough that he doesn't have to pull balls to drive them out of the park. He has average speed but makes things happen in terms of stealing bags and taking the extra base....

Young has few faults on the field. He occasionally takes bad routes on fly balls and sometimes gets overaggressive at the plate."

Are we still talking about the same player? Because the player we've seen swing at anything resembling a strike or meander wildly around the outfielder is a totally different player. Unless we're talking about the possibility that shape-shifting aliens are on this planet and they wish to play baseball, like that episode of The X-Files, we have to assume something terrible happened on the way to the forum.

Even after eight years of major league evidence, after run-ins with umpires in the minors and even a hate crime, teams still see that nugget of the player deep inside, hoping that the nascent talent that simply cannot be taught remains buried within.

It's why Brandon Wood, years after he was thought to be a lost cause, got 250 plate appearances with the Pirates in 2011. Or Lastings Milledge got a chance with the Pirates in 2010. (Man, the Pirates really kept dipping into this pool. I guess Francisco Liriano was their prize for continuing to try their luck.)

Because the hope is for a player like Alex Gordon, a tarnished prospect who just needed a little more time to figure things out, that through a combination of wisdom and pure, unadulterated baseball skill, great things could happen. Alex Gordon turned into an MVP-candidate when he was 27, only a year younger than Delmon.

And while Young has his uses, crushing lefthanders to the tune of .303/.341/.471, or essentially, what the the Braves got out of Chris Johnson last year, his defensive skill limits his usefulness, not many teams having the good fortune to carry a platoon designated hitter (Young has a career -49 DRS and -63.7 UZR, one of the times when DRS and UZR are in near perfect alignment).

Every year that passes makes it all the harder to see the dream within Young, but as long as those briefest glimpses are there, he'll continue to get a chance. Because Young, even after all this time, still possessed that preternatural ability to hit the ball that no 20th rounder will ever have, no matter how much they grind and train and sweat for it.

As long as someone can still see the dream, Delmon Young will have a job, damn the results.

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