Which brings me to Ubelmann's impassioned plea to knock off the Mauer-Young comparisons. I had written the first paragraph below, and that got Ubelmann a little riled up.....
"In summary, [Young] was off-the-charts promising, even compared to Twins prospects like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. If you asked baseball wonks to project those three players as 21-year-olds, there is no doubt which one they would’ve preferred. Hands down it would’ve been Young. When the Twins traded for him, he was an ideal acquisition."
That's just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even if you suppose that Delmon was the better hitter--despite his obvious lack of plate discipline--the difference in defensive value between a GG-caliber catcher and an average-at-best corner outfielder is gigantic. At most, it would have been a toss-up between Mauer and Delmon, and to say that Delmon would have been the "hands-down" favorite is spectacularly ridiculous. And if you'd like a present-day example, you don't have to look farther than comparing the hype for Travis Snider to the hype for Matt Wieters--and Wieters is even a couple of years older than Snider, but is still considered the far more promising prospect. (And using Delmon's RF metrics to defend is defensive abilities is focusing too much on a tiny set of data. Not to mention that if you're average in a corner spot at age 21, you're probably not getting any better--fielding abilities peak much earlier than hitting abilities.)
I know that no one suspected Delmon to be this bad, but I think that people projecting him to be a perennial All-Star as of the 2007-8 offseason were out of their minds. To be a perennial All-Star at a corner outfield spot, you have to be one of the top few hitters in the league--a nearly flawless hitter--and I don't think that Delmon displayed that kind of promise once we saw him against major league pitching. And it's not like this is total hindsight, because at the time of the trade, I wrote about how this was a really risky move, hoping that Delmon's bat would develop, because it seemed like he had no idea what he was doing at the plate, and there was a really long way to go between where he is now and what he might have become, and he had no defensive skills to fall back on.
OK, I'll play. I may be be wrong, and I'm too tired to do any heavy lifting, so rather than write up tonight's next part, I want do the following: I'll look up Mauer and Young's seasons at 20 and 21 on TheBaseballCube.com. I'll compare them, and then I'll also throw out what rotowire.com said about both players, just so we have an objective voice that was writing without hindsight. You know what? Just so we have another credible source, I'll also summarize what Baseball Prospectus said. Let's see what memories this drudges up...
Their Year at 20
Young spent most of the year in AAA, served that suspension, and was promoted to the majors where he posted an 815 OPS in the last month. This is the year he started striking out a lot more and walking a lot less. Rotowire says
"The Devil Rays expect to start the season with Young as their everyday right fielder and No. 3 hitter. With his power, speed and defense, he's a legitimate ROY candidate."
"Young doesn't walk a whole lot, but boy howdy can he hit."
Then they praised how he did as a 20-year-old while cautioning that he'll need to learn some plate discipline to become another Vladamir Guerrero.
Mauer spent half of his 20 year in High A and half in Double A. Like Young, he had about an OPS in the lower 800s, a high average, little power - but he had a great eye.
"Mauer will be given every chance to win the starting job at catcher after the trade of A.J. Pierzynski. The 2002 No. 1 overall draft pick has lived up the hype so far in his minor league career and was named by several organizations as the 2003 minor league player of the year. After hitting .335 at high Single-A Ft. Myers, he hit .341 at Double-A with a .431 OBA. The Twins feel he's ready to make the jump to a starting job in the majors at just 21 due to remarkable maturity and astonishing ability to handle a pitching staff for his age. Combine that with strong defensive skills and he should stick in the big leagues even if his bat is slow to come around. The one worry for Mauer has been a lack of power (just five homers all of last year), but that should come as he ages. As a local product, he'll also face extensive media hype and frequent comparisons to Mark Prior (who was the second pick in 2002). Expect a solid batting average in his first season, but low power totals. Still, he's a top Rookie of the Year candidate and a must-have on any keeper list."
Unfortunately, I can't tell you what BP said. Did I not get the 2004 book? I can't find it in my bookcase. Sorry.
What strikes me most about the priase is how similar they are. Top player in the minors and ROY candidates. Mauer's defense is gushed about, but Young isn't viewed as a defensive liability. Both have some concerns (Mauer - power, Young - discipline and attitude). Mauer is viewed as a decent bet to stay in the majors because of his defense, it's not even a question that Young will stay. Mauer is also not viewed as an impact player offensively because of the lack of power, at least not necessarily right away. I'd call it a push.
Their Year at 21
This was the year Young played full time in Tampa Bay basically did what we've seen him do every year - hit for a decent average, little power and a lot of strikouts. I think it's worth noting that Baseball Prospectus listed his defense in right field as being just one run worse than average there, though he was worse than that when he (shudder) played center field. Rotowire talked about how he didn't have a great year, finished second in ROY voting, but had the talent to make that vote look silly in a couple of years. BP talked mostly about the trade, and brought up his issues, but compared him to Vladamir Guerrero for the second time in two years:
"Yes Young's moody, yes he's overly aggressive at the plate, yes his power hasn't come as expected, but he's also still just 22 and regarded by scouts as one of the best young hitters around. Rays officials are hoping against hope that he fails to live up to PECOTA's Vladimir Guerrero comp (a comparison scouts have made as well) as he heads north to the land of 10,000 lakes."
Mauer missed almost the whole year because of that damn knee injury. He did very well in the 100 or so at-bats he had. Rotowire said:
"Mauer was regarded as the top prospect in baseball before the 2004 season began and won the starting job at catcher. In just his second major league game the 2002 No. 1 overall draft pick tore cartilage in his left knee. After surgery he returned in June but problems with the knee landed him on the DL again six weeks later and he wasn't able to play the rest of the season. ...While the Twins say they expect Mauer to be able to catch again there is some doubt since he had soreness in the knee even into last fall. The Twins would like to keep him behind the plate because he's got strong defensive skills and an uncanny ability to handle a pitching staff at a young age. No matter where he plays, Mauer has strong plate discipline which should lead to a .300 batting average with modest power. If his knee is healthy, he should quickly become one of the AL's top catchers."
BP was more worried. Here's a good chunk of their review of his year:
"The Twins are telling everyone that there's no problem, and if you smoke enough oregano, you might completely believe it. Don't listen, because their actions tell you they're worried. Why else pick up both Mike Redmond and Corky Miller this winter? Even if or when Mauer is healed up, there's still the issue of his size, since he's probably the biggest catcher in the league behind the perpetually fragile Sandy Alomar. It's time to accept that Bunyanesque catchers aren't meant for long and healthy careers."
Geez, I'd forgotten all about the 6' 5" nonsense that BP spewed for years. And how it scared the hell out of us when he hurt that knee.
That, to me, favors Delmon Young. Yes, Mauer's defense added value to him, but there were questions throughout his minor league career whether he would stay behind the plate because of his size. There were questions about his power, even up through this last offseason where BP was comparing his career path to that of Jason Kendall.
So back to the "Wrong. Wrong. Wrong." paragraph I wrote:
"In summary, he was off-the-charts promising, even compared to Twins prospects like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. If you asked baseball wonks to project those three players as 21-year-olds, there is no doubt which one they would’ve preferred. Hands down it would’ve been Young. When the Twins traded for him, he was an ideal acquisition."
Was Young "hands-down" a pick over Mauer? Probably not hands down. There were probably plenty of scouts that would've liked the catcher.
But Young would've initiated his equal share of drooling and was off-the-charts promising. He was also right-handed and projected to be another Vladamir Guererro. He truly was an ideal acquisition. So I'd go with "Right. Wrong. Right."
And I'll tell you another thing this little exercise has convinced me of. That we as a community, even incredibly analytical, fairly objective, sharp guys like Ubelmann, are completely undervaluing the talent that Young has demonstrated because it was with another organization. In this weekend's GameDay Chatter on the Twins Extra Innings show (On KSTP 1500 following Sunday's game) there will be a paragraph that says:
I can’t help but wonder, if Young had come up through the Twins minor leagues whether he might have been treated differently by the organization and fans. Would the Twins have asked their #1 overall pick to switch defensive positions? Would fans have been more patient with his lack of power if they had heard about him dominating Double-A as a 19-year-old? Would Gardy have hinted about trading Young if Delmon finished second in Rookie of the Year voting while he was on Gardy's team?
We waited for Mauer and Morneau despite all the concerns because we had been weened on their minor league exploits for years. And Young hasn't received that same consideration, either from the bloggers, the fans, or the organization, because we didn't get those weekly updates over several years.
And I'll go a step further. Developing this talent should be a priority. The Twins risk making another Big-Papi-sized mistake here. And this time, we'll have nobody to blame but ourselves, because the evidence of abundant talent is literally smacking us upside the head if we only care to open our eyes.