When Delmon Young makes solid contact. And I mean really solid contact. When he lines the sweet spot of his bat as perfectly as possible with the middle of the baseball, nobody on the Twins hits the ball harder. Nobody.
Not Joe Mauer. Not Justin Morneau. Not even former great Jason Tyner.
We saw glimpses of what Young is capable of in the second half of last season, especially down the stretch. Young's line in September/October? .340/.364/.544 with 4 home runs and 14 RBI.
Is this a big enough sample size when compared to the rest of his disappointing career? Of course not.
The odds are, Young hasn't turned some corner, and put up the same type of season he has every year of his career (he has actually been surprisingly consistent. Or at list consistently inconsistent.)
Are the stories about Young dropping 29 pounds in the offseason overblown? Of course they are, it is part of the whole "spring training stories game." Someone comes to camp in the best shape of his life, and suddenly it is all aboard the one-way train to career-yearsville.
With two years in a Twins uniform under his (now looser) belt, and one similar year with the Rays, the easiest thing to do is assume Young is what he is. We've seen enough, and we can peg Young as the guy who has a lot of talent, but will never live up to it because he can't grasp the "grip it and rip it" concept of hitting. That is to say, he thinks he is a scrappy singles hitter.
Somewhat ironically, the other easy thing to do is take all the good things we have seen in Young and say "this is the year he puts it together." People have said that every year since the Twins acquired him after all.
When the Twins first acquired Young, I was in the camp that loved the deal and felt -- having never really seen him play -- that he would, in fact, "put it together" and at least partially replace Torii Hunter's bat in the lineup. He was a highly touted prospect coming of a decent rookie season, after all.
When it quickly became apparent that someone had taught Young that taking a full hack at a baseball was inappropriate, and inside outing squirters to the right side of the infield was the best possible hitting approach, I gave up on Mr. Young. His stubborn refusal to adjust and realize that he is a power hitter whose batting average is irrelevant, didn't help matters.
So basically, since about May of 2008 I have been out on Young. I thought he would never get it together. When he showed signs of his talent, I scoffed at the apparent aberration.
Well, I am here to announce that I have changed my mind on Young. I'm going to be the one touting his potential this season. Not because he lost weight, or because he hit well for awhile last year, but because I actually believe he is finally ready to be a Major League Baseball player.
People forget that Young is, well, young. The dude is only 24. Have you ever met someone under 24? I mean, I know a fair number of people under the age of 24, and, quite frankly, I would be more shocked if any of them DIDN'T throw a baseball bat at someone than if they did. My point is, people under 25 are stupid. They just are.
I know what you are thinking, "someone plays the maturity card every year you sniveling jackass." And you're right, they do. And, yes, I am fairly snively.
The fact is, however, Young has proven time and time again that he has not made that jump in maturity. And, personally, I believe that everybody makes that leap at some point in their life. To varying degrees, yes, but at some point everybody's brain clicks and they start to actually figure shit out.
So why do I think it will be this year for Young? Well, OK, the weight loss does help. It shows a certain level of focus. But also, it just seems like it is time for him. He finally has an unquestioned starting job in left field, and little to no pressure on him. In fact, he and J.J. Hardy get to battle for "least amount of pressure on the roster" this year because nobody has high expectations for either, and they get to hit 7th and 8th in a lineup that includes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer.
Do I have some hard statistical evidence for why I think now is Young's time? Not really.
Call it a gut feeling, I suppose. (Or maybe a lack of gut feeling in Young's case.) All I know as I am sitting here on March 1st, I believe in Delmon Young.
I guess that is what the optimism of spring training does for you.