Apologists will blame Elijah Dukes. Or the Devil Rays front office. Or a bad call by a replacement ump. But simply put, there is no excuse. Delmon Young's gaffe on Wednesday was as embarrassing, immature and irresponsible an action as a twenty year old can produce.
For those unaware, following a strikeout against Jon Lester in Pawtucket on Wednesday, Delmon Young argued strikes and balls with the umpire. This was no surprising act for a phenom suspended a year ago for bumping an umpire in a similar situation. After jawing and standing in the batter's box for too long following his strikeout, the umpire justifiably ejected Young. Delmon, then walking towards the Durham Bulls' bench, threw his bat, hitting the ump across the chest. Video is at MILB.com.
Young is now suspended indefinitely, deserving of a ten-game suspension. The move highlights the belief that Young's largest weakness as a prospect, and he doesn't have many, is a lack of maturity. And without question, this is a problem more important than numbers-crunchers will believe. Young will enter 2007 with high expectations, a blue-chip prospect starting in the Majors at the age of 21. A lack of poise could certainly lead to a bad year.
Prior to his outburst, Young was in the midst of an odd season. Lauded for his power projectability, Delmon has now played 21 games without a home run. In fact, the former top overall draft pick has just four extra-base hits and a .392 slugging percentage through 79 at-bats. Instead, he's showing the skillset of a leadoff hitter, showing great contact skills -- a .329 average and low 13.9 K% -- and good baserunning (12/13 SB).
Currently, the Devil Rays are receiving a line of .240/.293/.480 from right field. Now, a team already patient with their prospects will (in all likelihood) push back the timetable for their best youngster. Not only has Young delayed the date of his first home run in 2006, but he has also delayed his debut in Tampa.
From a talent standpoint, Delmon Young isn't far from being Major League ready. However, Delmon has now made it all-too-obvious that from a maturity standpoint, he isn't close.
Other notes from around the minor leagues...
With a week of play under his belt, there is no better time than now to begin analyzing another former top choice, Justin Upton. Upton's raw statistics are good, he's 9/26 with three steals, three doubles, four walks and five strikeouts. His line reads: .346/.433/.462. From these numbers alone, we can understand that Upton has fantastic speed, good patience, moderate power and contact skills that need improving.
But there is more to be read into. Since starting his season 1-for-9, Upton has caught fire, eight for his last seventeen. He's relatively untested in center, with no assists or errors as of yet. His baserunning has been sound, although Justin's last attempt was a caught stealing. To me, what most speaks volumes about his play is this: there have been 21 balls that Upton has put into play this year. Given the game logs at MILB.com, we know that in these 21 instances, Upton has pulled 10 balls, gone with 8 the opposite way, and hit three to center.
Speed, patience, developing power, and a balanced approach at the plate. Justin Upton has just begun.
Staying in the Midwest League, another hot 2005 draftee is the Cardinals' first round pick Colby Rasmus. After seven games, Rasmus had collected just two hits and was batting .071/.188/.071. Since then, the product of Alabama has caught fire , collecting 25 hits in his last 64 at-bats. His line, during that time, is .391/.426/.625.
My first minor league game of the season was last night, catching the majority of a 15-inning game in which Rasmus hit his third home run, a right field shot off Kyle Waldrop. Rasmus impressed me a great deal, showing a patient approach at the plate which later yielded a walk. Colby was great running the bases, stealing second after each of his two singles.
In the one game in which I have seen from Rasmus thus far, my guess is that he is a fastball hitter. Two of his three hits, including the home run, were off heaters. His lone strikeout, a horrible swing at a slow, Yohan Pino curveball. If Rasmus can better stay back on slow stuff, the patient, powerful teenager has a fantastic ceiling.
In addition to Rasmus, the game I attended last night pitted two former first-round pitchers against each other: Kyle Waldrop (Twins) and Mark McCormick (Cardinals).
Waldrop, 20, was a first round pick by the Twins in 2004 from a Tennessee high school. All the praise surrounding Waldrop centered upon his polish, including the best change-up of his senior class. In 2004, Waldrop wasn't great in 27 Beloit starts, with a 4.98 ERA, 182 hits and 17 home runs in 151.2 innings. Kyle struck out just 108 batters, while walking only 23.
Last night was nothing out of the ordinary for Waldrop. In 4.1 innings, Kyle allowed 8 hits, including the home run to Rasmus. He struck out four batters, mostly on his great change, walking none. Waldrop offers an unimpressive fastball, with decent sink, good control, and very little velocity. His curve is inconsistent, poor in many ways, and the result of an inconsistent delivery. I don't see future success for Waldrop, but stranger things have happened.
McCormick, on the other hand, comes with a far more decorated history. Baylor's Friday Night pitcher in 2005, McCormick had a 2.96 ERA in the Big 12, and was drafted 43rd overall because of a fantastic fastball. He dropped that late because of poor control, at Baylor, McCormick had walked 152 batters in 223 innings. Entering his Thursday start, McCormick's Midwest League career had started with three inconsistent starts: 16 strikeouts, 13 walks, 9 hits allowed in 13.2 innings.
And like Waldrop, McCormick's performance was no great surprise. The right-hander didn't allow any runs and just two hits in 6 innings; he overmatched the Beloit Snappers. His fastball was fantastic -- easily above 95 -- but an odd hitch in his delivery seemed to promote a lack of control. His curve was also inconsistent, but when he snapped it, it helped in a few of his six strikeouts.
I think McCormick could have a future in the Bigs; his fastball was as good as I've seen in the minors in awhile. But, if he does, it will in all likelihood come in a relief role, and following a great deal of time spent with a pitching coach.
While McCormick's six shutout innings were a personal best, his start was hardly the best of a great Thursday for high-level pitching prospects. Homer Bailey, a breakout prospect of mine (and one that I figured would end the year in my top 20), lowered his ERA by 0.95 points with six shutout innings of his own.
In his six innings, Bailey did not allow a single hit, his only baserunners the result of two walks. His dominance was also evident in the strikeouts column, where Homer whiffed nine in his six innings of work. Suddenly, Homer's stats for the year look more impressive: in 26.1 innings, the Cincy phenom has allowed 18 hits and 7 walks, while striking out 29.
But even six hitless innings couldn't make for the best start of the day. Instead, we turn our heads to AAA, where former first rounder Cole Hamels was making his debut at the level. Following four successful starts in the Florida State League, Hamels was promoted to the International League, skipping AA. In his debut, Hamels may have his best start of his 33-start minor league career.
Playing against blue-chip prospect Lastings Milledge and the Norfolk Tides, Hamels allowed three hits and no walks in seven shutout innings. Hamels dominance, founded upon three great pitches, produced 14 strikeouts. When healthy, and acting mature, Hamels is one of the game's top five (or so) pitching prospects. Along with Gio Gonzalez (1.48 ERA through 4 AA starts), the Phillies have one of the best pitching prospect tandems in the Major Leagues.
And, without question, it's much needed. The current Philadelphia staff offers Brett Myers, a stud and significant part of the Phillies long-term plans. After that, the group worsens. The other four pitchers -- Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson -- have not fared so well, allowing 80 runs in 92.1 innings, good for an obscene 7.80 ERA.
Less than a month into the season, the fog is beginning to clear in Philadelphia. The verdict: Cole Hamels and Gio Gonzalez belong, where Cory Lidle and Gavin Floyd do not.