FORT MYERS, Fla. – Minnesota Twins left-fielder Delmon Young doubled and scored in his first at-bat against Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Wade Davis in a Grapefruit League spring training game Saturday afternoon.
In the bottom of the fourth, Young drilled a first-pitch, three-run home run far over the left field fence, his first long ball of the spring.
The game was being played at beautiful Hammond Stadium – the spring training home of the Twins – under a cloudless sky on an 82-degree southwest Florida day. But for just a few minutes before Saturday’s first pitch, Young allowed his mind to wander back in time to a place on the other side of the Florida peninsula.
Young – 10th in last year’s American League Most Valuable Player voting after a career year in which he hit .298 with 46 doubles, 21 home runs and 112 RBI – is beginning his sixth season in the Major Leagues and his fourth with the two-time defending AL Central Division champion Twins.
And it was just shy of 10 years ago that Young was playing in the 2001 Perfect Game WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., at the Roger Dean Complex, the spring training home of the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals.
Almost 10 years later, Young still appreciates the opportunity the PG event presented him.
“It’s a great thing for young players to get exposed to colleges and pro scouts,” Young said in a pre-game chat with Perfect Game on the playing field at Hammond. “You also get to meet a lot of players that end up going to the next level in the college or pro ranks.
“You get to meet a lot of guys, especially when you get to the big leagues, and you say, ‘Oh yeah, I played at Perfect Game with this guy,’ so you at least have some type of relationship with a different player that you might not have had if you only stayed playing in your local area.”
Young played at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in 2000 and 2001 as a member of the Baseball America travel team. After his performance at the ’01 event, a Perfect Game scouting report stated:
“Young came off an impressive stint at the Area Codes and was able to display his bat speed and power. The ball jumps off his bat lightning-fast and he looks like a veteran out there already.”
At the time of that observation, Young was a 16-year-old junior in high school and PG’s No. 2-ranked player in the class of ’03.
“It was great exposure down in Jupiter,” Young said. “It’s a great thing for the young players to go out and go to and get exposed to a level of baseball they’re trying to get to. You also get to compete against the best players, and you get to meet a lot of good people there who turn out to be your friends, teammates or roommates down the road.”
Young, the 25-year-old younger brother of former Major Leaguer Dmitri Young, was made the No. 1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1st round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Camarillo (Calif.) High School.
At the time, he and Dmitri were the first set of brothers to be taken within the first five selections of the Draft (Dmitri was the fourth player selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1991). Brothers B.J. and Justin Upton –also prominent Perfect Game alums – have since joined that exclusive club.
Young played 3½ seasons in the minor leagues and was named the 2005 Minor League Player of the Year. He made his Major League debut with the Rays on Aug. 29, 2006. After hitting .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI in 162 games with the Rays in 2007, he was traded to the Twins before the ’08 season.
He enjoyed productive seasons for the Twins in 2008 and ’09 (he played in only 108 games in ’09) before really busting out last season.
Young was one of only eight Major Leaguers to finish with 20-plus home runs, 40-plus doubles and 100-plus RBI with a .290-plus batting average. Robinson Cano, Matt Holliday, Ryan Braun, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Miguel Cabrera and AL MVP Josh Hamilton were the others.
Young said he is feeling good this spring, although Saturday’s game against the Rays was only his seventh of the preseason.
“It’s going great,” he said. “Everyone’s getting healthy on our team, and we’re looking forward to going out and repeating as Central Division champs.”
Young’s rise from a Perfect Game top prospect to a Major League star has not come without speed bumps. While playing for the Triple-A Durham Bulls in 2006, he was suspended for 50 days by International League President Randy Mobley after throwing his bat at an umpire during a game.
Young served his suspension and later that season made his big league debut with the Rays. He had risen from the fields at the Roger Dean Complex in Jupiter to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
“If you would have told me when I was 15-years-old I was going to be playing Major League baseball, I should have been happy,” Young said. “You never know for sure, and it’s been a long journey from start to finish with everything that I went through, but it’s fun out here playing Major League baseball.”