Tigers Potential Trade Target: Eric Young Jr.
By Garret Craig
As I talked about in my post earlier today, I’ve been scouring several organizations for second and third basemen who are talented enough to play in the majors but are blocked by one or more high-profile players who play the same position–players who could be had fairly easily in a trade that would fit on the Tigers’ roster next year.
In addition to your average depth players, my searching has brought to my attention a few interesting prospects; it almost seems, though, like all of the most intriguing ones are still a year or more of minor league seasoning away from becoming major-league contributors. Fortunately, there are still a few who have been seasoned for a long time in the minors and whose time to shine may be near. One such player is Eric Young Jr.
The 25-year-old prospect (if he can still be called that after 158 games at the major league level) was an afterthought when he was drafted in the 30th round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft. Instead of quickly fizzling out, however, he had immediate success, then improved on it year-to-year. Consequently, he moved up in the Rockies’ minor league system at a steady rate, reaching Triple-A in 2009. The two following years, he would spend most of his time in the majors as well as a significant chunk back in the higher levels of the minors.
Young’s father, five-years retired after a successful career of 15 major-league seasons and now a base coach in Arizona, was a speedy lead-off hitter and second baseman in his playing days. His namesake is essentially a carbon copy.
First and foremost, Young is known for flying around the diamond with near matchless speed. While climbing up the ranks of Colorado’s minor league system from 2006 to 2009, he racked up 264 stolen bases in 343 attempts, good for a 77% success rate. Considering he was on first base about 672 times (total hits minus extra-base hits plus walks and hit by pitches) during that span, including when he was on with a runner in front of him, he was basically stealing whenever he got a chance. This year, he stole 44 bases in 135 games between the majors and Triple-A. His major-league stolen base totals for this year (27 in 77 games) projected over 140 games would give him 49, the same number as Brett Gardner, who finished the season second in the majors in stolen bases.
Of course, he may as well be running on a treadmill if he can’t get on base first. Luckily for Young, and his team, he has consistently proven himself as an able contact hitter capable of reaching base at an efficient rate. During his major-league days, he’s made contact on 81% of the pitches he has swung at. That’s the same contact rate as Miguel Cabrera, who finished second on the team in that statistic, had this year. Young’s strikeout rate (15.6% in his minor league career) would have been the third-lowest on the Tigers this year–right ahead of Jhonny Peralta. He can definitely handle the bat, but that fact by itself hasn’t brought Young success at the plate, a fact demonstrated well by his respectable but unimpressive .246 career batting average. Rather, what makes Young a valuable hitter is his ability to work a walk. In eight minor league seasons, his base on balls percentage was 11.3%. That rate, if kept up for one whole major-league season, would have placed him 29th in the majors in walk rate, directly ahead of hitters such as Mark Teixeira, B.J. Upton, and Alberto Callaspo. Young’s ability to make contact and work walks have meant very high on-base percentages throughout his career. He boasts an OBP of .388 for his minor league career, including a monstrous .454 in limited time at Triple-A this year. His fantastic OBP numbers hadn’t really converted at the major league level too well (he has a .324 in three partial seasons) until this year when he put up a .342 in 77 games.
In summary, he gets on base and runs like crazy, making him an ideal fit for a team currently lacking options to bat in the upper third of their batting order as well as overall team speed–the Tigers probably fit that bill better than any club. Like his father, Young Jr. could turn out to be a solid major-league lead-off hitter. The Rockies seem to agree with that sentiment, as this year, he led off in 40 games of the 42 he started. In just those 40 games in the lead-off spot, he posted a .333 OBP and racked up 22 stolen bases while getting caught just three times.
In addition to second base, Young is capable of playing all three outfield spots, making him just a bit more valuable.
As hard as I’ve tried so far in this article to paint Young in a good light, he does have some significant issues. For one, his defense rates somewhere between mediocre and awful. In 2010, he made six errors in just 35 games at second base. His career minor league fielding percentage at second base (.961) and his major-league fielding percentage this year (.955) suggest that he has hands worse than those of Scott Sizemore, who had a .964 fielding percentage at second this year. If you remember, Sizemore’s defense wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. Young has compiled an unimpressive UZR of 0.3 at second base to this point in his major league career.
For as fast as he is, some believe his base-running skills are running short. One complaint is that his base running instincts are severely lacking, and that he has a tendency to get picked off. That said, he’s been caught just 14 times in the majors to 48 steals (a 77.4% success rate), which isn’t bad at all.
He also has absolutely no power, as evidenced by having just a single home run in 479 major-league plate appearances.
This is a bit difficult to ascertain. The Rockies seem to think quite highly of Young, but they have an overabundance of options similar in age to Young who they could turn to at second base. Eight players made starts at second for Colorado this year, and six of them are 28 or younger. Outside of 34-year-old veteran Mark Ellis, a free agent who may or may not return, Jonathan Herrera, Chris Nelson, and Jose Lopez all logged more innings than Young at second this year. Lopez was released in June, leaving just Herrera and Nelson as players who are probably ahead of Young on the Rockies’ second base depth chart. If the Rockies don’t acquire a second baseman, it seems Nelson projects as their starter with either Herrera or Young possibly playing off the bench.
On another team, this situation would seem to suggest that Young would move to the outfield, where he could potentially take advantage of his speed on defense. However, the Rockies have a trio of good, young outfielders in Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez who figure to be around for a long time.
The log jams Colorado has at second and in the outfield mean Young is expendable. That leaves just one question, should the Tigers want to acquire Young; do they have something the Rockies want?
Colorado does not have a glaring need for left-handed pitching with Rex Brothers and Matt Reynolds projected to make the roster as relievers and Drew Pomeranz in the running for a rotation spot.
They also have a few lefties on their list of top prospects, but a guy like Casey Crosby would immediately become one of the better pitchers in their minor league system and could even compete for a job in their rotation in spring training. Even if Pomeranz’ inclusion in the big-league rotation is assumed, the Rockies still have one more spot to fill after him, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, and Esmil Rogers.
Young has a lot of interesting qualities and I do think the Tigers should look into him; given the opportunity, there’s a chance he could develop into a mainstay at the top of an order. However, I’m not entirely sure how well a trade would work between these two teams. Though the Tigers do have young, left-handed pitching in excess, I would be very hesitant to trade, say, Crosby, for Young unless the latter is just a part of a bigger package. Should Ramon Santiago bolt in free agency, as seems expected, maybe a guy like Young could function in a utility role–pinch running or occasionally filling in at second or in the outfield.
He’s an intriguing prospect, but in the end, him playing for Detroit next year is fairly unlikely. I guess I’ll keep looking.