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July 14, 2006

Future Shock

Feature: Chris Young

by Kevin Goldstein

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If Diamondbacks center field prospect Chris Young has a problem with anything, it bad timing.

The Next Mike Cameron?

As an African-American centerfielder in the White Sox system with speed, power and a tendency to strike out, comparisons to former all-star and two-time Gold Glove winner Mike Cameron became almost unavoidable. But are they accurate?

A Pacific Coast League scout:
"He's good defensively, but not as good as Cameron--not many are. Still, I can understand where the comparisons come from as they're very similar physically and very similar at the plate in that they both have long swings but make up for it with plus batspeed. The thing about Cameron is that, for whatever reason, once he reached a certain level, he never got better, when it seems like he should have. Maybe Young will exceed that."

Young, on the comparison:
"I don't scout myself. If you guys want to compare me to any big leaguer, that's fine with me."

Exhibit One: June of 2001. Young was a star at national powerhouse Bellaire High School near Houston. A rail-thin outfielder who was expected to be drafted somewhere in the sixth-to-tenth round, Young broke his arm in a collision just three days before the June selections began. "I thought the White Sox were going to take me," recalled Young. "But after I broke my arm, I didn't even know if I'd get taken at all." The White Sox did eventually select Young, but not until the 16th round. Young took it in stride, without putting a chip on his shoulder. "That little signing bonus doesn't make a different in the long run when you're talking about playing in the big leagues," said Young. Or did it? "At the same time, I wanted to prove to everybody that I should have gone higher," he added.

Fast forward nearly five years to the spring of 2006, and Young has done just that. In short order, Young established himself as one of the premier power/speed combinations in the minor leagues, coming off a .277/.377/.545 campaign at Double-A Birmingham that included 26 home runs and 32 stolen bases. The top prospect in the White Sox system, he was the key to an offseason deal that sent starter Javier Vasquez to Chicago, and this spring was preparing to impress a new organization when bad timing struck again.

"I was working out, getting ready for spring training and one of the drills involves doing box jumps where you start in a standing position and jump on top of a box," recalled the 22-year-old outfielder. "I guess I was standing too close to the box, and when I flung my arms forward, they hit the box--and that's hard wood--I knew it was bad." X-rays revealed a broken bone in the top of his hand, and the necessary recovery time would keep Young out of spring training. "It was frustrating--you want to make a good impression with the new team and then you can't even play."

Young wouldn't join the team at Triple-A Tucson until late April, and he struggled initially, batting .244 with one home run in his first 18 games. A different kind of timing was to blame this time. "The hand wasn't one hundred percent normal, but I don't think it affected my game," said Young. "It was all timing--I hadn't seen live pitching for a long time, and those first few weeks were like my spring training."

Young has recovered to hit 13 home runs in 47 games since, and was batting .271/.359/.508 overall as the season moved into the second half. He ended the first half in style, smacking a game winning grand slam in the Sidewinders' final game before the all-star break.

While his averages at the break are similar to last season's numbers, Young has made significant progress in addressing the one concern about his offensive game: too many strikeouts. While he cut his strikeout total from 145 in 2004 to 129 last year, this year the progress has been more dramatic, as Young has struck out 48 times in 262 at-bats. Young credits the change in part to this year's spring training, and while that might sound strange considering the fact that he didn't play, Young insists that his time in big league camp was an eye-opener. "I would just hang out in the locker room and listen to everyone. It was equal ground in there whether you're a veteran or a rookie--just very welcoming," Young said, while also crediting what he learned by studying spring training games from the bench. "You watch big league hitters and they're not afraid to take strikes because it might not be the pitch that they're looking for," Young added. "It's all about staying calm and staying confident and I've tried to bring that confidence to my game this year."

Calm and confident is the same way Young describes his team--one of the more prospect-filled ones in Triple-A that includes shortstop Stephen Drew, outfielder Carlos Quentin and righthander Dustin Nippert. With a record of 57-33, Tucson has the second best record in the Pacific Coast League and leads their division by 13 games, but Young insists that ability is just one part of winning. "Our success goes a lot further than natural talent," surmised Young. "There's an attitude here where nobody gives up--there's always a lot of confidence in the dugout about this team winning and also a lot of drive and motivation here--they're always working with coaches or watching video to work on problems--you can see why they're good when you see how hard they work."

When Young's teammate Drew was selected to the Futures Game this year--leaving Young at home after playing in the all-star prospect exhibition last year--Young nonetheless enjoyed the game like a true teammate. "I still watched it for sure. Drew was there, [White Sox third baseman and former Birmingham teammate Josh] Fields was there--Josh tore it up and we talked right after the game," recalled Young. "It's all good--I got my chance to play in it last year, and this year I had friends there," said Young.

Besides, Young has a much bigger goal in his mind now, and while he does use his fair share of clichés, he knows that the biggest one for minor league players is one that nobody believes.

"I could give you the cliché about getting to the majors and how I don't think about it and how I don't control it, but I'd be lying if I said that and you know it," said Young. "We're at Triple-A here--we all have it in the back of our mind. I'm very excited about that day."

Assuming another case of bad timing doesn't strike, that day will come sooner rather than later.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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