There’s been a lot of discussion in recent weeks over whether or not Eric Young’s performance is sustainable. While there are some worrisome albeit short samples of major league play that seem to indicate he is currently playing above his head, if you look back a bit more you may see a different player.
Eric Young was drafted in the 33rd round by the Colorado Rockies in 2003 as a 5 ft 9 inch 170 lb 2nd baseman from Piscataway H.S. in NJ. Young had his first exposure to pro ball as a 19 year old with the Casper Rockies of the Pioneer (rookie) League in 2004 where he hit .264 with a .407 OBP and 13 steals in 23 games, profiling as a true leadoff hitter. He resumed his stint with the Casper Rockeis in 2005 doing a lot better in a much larger sample – in 219 ab’s he hit .301 with a .404 OBP and 25 steals. He was promoted to the low A-ball Ashville Tourists of the South Atlantic League in 2006 where, in his largest sample up to that point, Young played to a .295 avg., a .391 OBP and 87 steals in 482 at bats. Young had learned how to play to his speed.
From 2007 to 2009 Young worked his way through the Colorado system from Modesto (A+), to Tulsa (AA), and finally to Colorado Springs (AAA) where he hit .299 with a .387 OBP and 58 steals (caught 14 times) in 472 at bats. Young was named to the Futures game in 2009 and was the #6 ranked prospect in the Colorado system in 2010.
Below is a Baseball Cube scouting scale comparing Eric Young to his peers. Ranked players are assigned a number ranging from 100 to 1 with equal distribution to each number. The worst player receives 1 while the best receives 100. Depending on the number of players eligible, there could be more than 1 or more than 100 assigned.
Two things jump out at you, his patience, and his speed. Sounds like an Alderson / DePo guy doesn’t it? Young had been on Depotesta’s radar for quite a while. He totally fits the current Met organizational philosophy.
Eric Young reached something of an apex in his minor league career in 2009 with numbers that certainly warranted a call-up, which he got, but a funny thing happened to Eric Young Jr. on his way to stardom, the Colorado Rockies stopped playing him. They gave him 30 at bats in 2009 and after he hit .246 they sent him back down to Colorado Springs the following year where he didn’t do quite as well in only 123 at bats (.252. avg, .340 OBP). Nevertheless Young got called up again to a crowded Colorado outfield and managed to hit .244 with a 312 OBP and 17 steals, still nowhere near his minor league norms. Young bounced back to Colorado Springs for the 2011 season and he hit .363 with an otherworldly .454. OBP in 223 at bats. The Rockies brought him back to Colorado where he hit an underwhelming (but serviceable) .247 with a .342 OBP and with, hold on now, 27 steals in 198 at bats … Is that right? Yep, 27 steals, Young seemed in the midst of figuring something out and I remember him as a guy who began to make it onto fantasy rosters for his speed. Young began the 2012 season in Colorado and he again found himself trying to break into Colorodo’s crowded outfield, however, Young continued to look like a player that had begun to find his way, hitting .316 with a .377 OBP 14 steals and an 825 OPS in 223 at bats. I for one couldn’t figure out why the Rockies weren’t playing him more.
2013 saw the Rockies open the season with a starting outfield of Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Michael Cuddyer. As a 4th outfielder Young hit a disappointing .242 with an even more uncharacteristic .277 OBP in 165 at bats. He was traded to the Mets on June 19th for Collin McHugh. Eric Young’s tenure in Colorado was characterized by inconsistent playing time primarily as a late inning replacement and an occasional spot starter. It’s difficult to gauge a young player’s ability as a backup, particularly a player who throughout his minor league career seemed to do far better in larger samples as a starter.
So what do we go with? Samples of 30, 51, and 77 games a piece while playing as an occasional replacement, or stints of 128, 130, 105, and 119 games as a regular that show a much different player? Personally I’d go with the bigger samples even though they are minor league stats. Some guys can just never get it going without consistent playing time and Young appears to fit that profile. Throughout his career, the more at bats he’s gotten during any given season, the better his performance.
Young has been a pretty darned good minor league player amassing 330 steals with a .295 career minor league average a .388 OBP and an 808 ops. I don’t expect that to translate to the majors, but you could do a lot worse than a guy with a .260 or so average and a .360 to .380 OBP who can steal 30 to 40 bases and play a decent outfield, and honestly I’d say that’s the least we might expect from Young. Given his 2012 numbers I think it isn’t outrageous to project that Young could hit .300 with an OPB approaching .400 with 60 steals.
Young is more than the sum of his very fast parts. His speed creates problems for the opposition by both forcing them to hurry their defense as well as requiring them to protect against steals and bunts. He also replaces an element of excitement that has been missing since Jose Reyes departed. He can score from first on many hits and he has reintroduced Mets fans to the likelihood of a triple. He not only gets on base, he’s able to move around the bases with world class speed and with stealth, and, he can cover a massive tract of real estate in the outfield. The cumulative effect of Eric Young is one that has managed to help jump start a Mets offense that was a moribund disaster while also shoring up the outfield defense. As such, Young may be a lot more integral to this team than we realize.