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.
Or Not to Delmon?
Remember playing organized baseball as a little kid? You know, the days when everyone had to play in a game out of "fairness." It was annoying enough to be pitching on a team as a 12-year-old and you lose a game because the little bastards behind you can't make an f-ing play...um...sorry I digress.
My point is, sometimes it seems like Ron Gardenhire manages like he coaches a Little League team.
Yes, Major League players need to get playing time in order to get into a groove, but there is also such thing as "over-juggling." Not everybody gets a chance to play in every game. When there are 25 guys on the roster, some guys are going to play less. They just are.
It is hard to really complain when the Twins are 7-3, but the way Gardenhire has shuffled playing time between Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and Jason Kubel has been unnecessary.
Instead of having a set lineup, everyone is left to wonder which of the three will be playing on a given day. And for a lineup this good, that is not a question mark they need. These guys should have defined roles.
Take for example yesterday. Thome was in the lineup in favor of Young. On Jackie Robinson Day. I mean, come on now, that's just...well...um...actually I should probably stop before I piss Orlando Hudson off.
In all seriousness though, the Twins need to find a set lineup. Especially when you consider the fact that Young has been one of the Twins hottest hitters to start the year, and he is still trying to prove that he can live up to his talent. Until he begins to stumble, he should be in the lineup every day.
Like Young, Kubel, the Twins third best hitter, should be in the lineup every day. Pitching matchups be damned, Jason Kubel should not sit.
So what does this mean for Thome?
I'm not saying that Thome should NEVER play. But playing Thome for the sake of playing Thome is not why Jim Thome is around. He is a bat off the bench, and that is how he should be used.
Need a pinch-hit-for-Punto? Call big Jim.
Someone need a day off? Call big Jim.
The fact is, Thome can get plenty of at-bats without being detrimental to Kubel, Young, or anyone else. Between guys needing days off and pinch-hitting, Thome will get his at-bats. You don't need to find Thome at-bats, the at-bats will find him.
Having Thome on the team is a good thing, assuming he is utilized correctly. The fact is, however, that when you start inserting Thome in the lineup because he "needs at-bats" you are doing so at the detriment of other players, and often the team.
Only nine games into the season, it is hard to say the Twins have found their lineup routine yet, but at the rate they are going the lack of continuity could get out of hand.
The Twins need to set a day-to-day lineup, and allow Thome to slide into his rightful role: a slugger of the bench.