Young striving to claim his spot
With outfield at full capacity, talented Dodger makes switch
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Here in Florida, Delwyn Young is the resident nobody -- a Dodger without a niche. He isn't all that loud and he isn't all that flashy, and though he may play for Los Angeles, he remains miles away from Hollywood.
Or as Young puts it: "I can't really write a book about myself right now."
No, perhaps not. But with a little luck, he might soon be able to write the first chapter.
He's close -- that much is certain. On another team, in another place, Young might already be entrenched in a starting outfield position, spraying line drives all over the field. But this is Dodgertown, where Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones and Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier already play the outfield, and play it quite well.
The Dodgers knew that, so last season, they moved Young to second base -- a position he hadn't previously manned since 2005. The experiment went well, but with a similar problem. This is Dodgertown, where Jeff Kent already plays second base, and plays it quite well.
And so it goes for Young, a pure hitter if ever there was one -- but a Dodger unable to hack his way into the lineup. Barring injury, he won't be able to do it this spring, either. Instead, he'll continue to adapt to second base, continue to hit and continue to hope that this time, he might finally stick with the big club as a reserve.
That last part is more critical now than ever. At 25 years old and seven seasons into his professional career, Young is out of Minor League options. If he doesn't make the Dodgers this spring, he may have to find employment elsewhere.
"We're pushing him to different positions," manager Joe Torre said, quoting Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, "to make him necessary."
That's how the second baseman-turned-outfielder winds up back at second base, when there's little doubt that he had become more comfortable in the outfield. Young had to adapt, because it was his only chance to stick around.
And perhaps that's not entirely fair. Young has hit at every Minor League level since the Dodgers drafted him back in 2002, most notably finishing fourth in the Pacific Coast League with a .337 average last summer. Over six Minor League seasons, in fact, Young has hit a combined .302 with 102 home runs. Those are tough numbers to beat.
Yet he remains stuck behind four others in one of the league's deepest, most talented outfields, and buried behind a second baseman, Kent, whose career might one day earn him votes for Cooperstown. Those are tougher numbers to beat.
Worse yet, he's not even alone. One misstep, and a parade of other Dodgers hopefuls would be happy to snag his place on the depth chart.
"What's unusual here," Torre said, "is I've never been involved in an organization that had this many young players that seem capable of playing at the Major League level."
No matter how much Young impresses these Dodgers, it doesn't seem to matter. He finally cracked the Majors late last summer for his first extended big league run -- he had previously made eight appearances in 2006 -- and immediately began to hit. After all, that's what he does. In 12 at-bats pinch-hitting -- widely considered to be the toughest task in baseball -- Young slapped three singles and a home run. Finally earning some regular playing time, he then amassed four hits in just his second game as a starter, finishing with a .382 average over 34 games.
"It's not an easy thing to do, coming off the bench and hitting," Young said. "I had a chance to do it last year, and I had success doing it. We'll see how it goes from here."
Yet the Dodgers already knew that Young could hit. That's why he's spent so much energy this spring focusing on his defense at second base, to prove his worth there, too.
Consider Saturday afternoon his first shining success. Starting at second, Young made three dazzling defensive plays against the Mets, looking every bit as natural a fielder as he is a hitter.
"I'm just trying to do my best," Young said. "I try to make the routine plays. Days like [Saturday] don't happen all the time."
Of course they don't. His situation dictates that they can't. On Sunday, for example, Kent -- a veteran with clout -- requested to be in the lineup, and Torre said sure. Just like that, Young was back on the bench, back where his potent bat couldn't do a bit of damage.
Back to being nobody, until further notice.
"Perhaps that's this season's task -- doing something out of the ordinary," Young said. "If I have to go to eight out of the nine positions and figure them out, then so be it."
Anthony Dicomo is a reporter for MLb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.