Connect with us


Once a Star in the Making, Chris Young, Rejuvenated As Yankees Fourth Outfielder

Young hit .328 in month of June.

Chris Young (Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Young (Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports)


Baseball is flush with young talent. During the last few weeks we have seen the arrival of prized youngsters such as Maikel Franco, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Byron Buxton and others. These young phenoms possess the potential to have very long and productive careers. They should win their fair share of accolades through the years and make a bunch of All-Star teams. But not every promising young star goes on to have the kinds of careers many envisioned. Look no further than reserve Yankee outfielder, Chris Young, who has enjoyed a career renaissance with the Bronx Bombers as a part-time player.

The 31-year old Young made his debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in August of 2006, and as a rookie the following season he led the D-Backs in slugging, doubles, home runs, extra-base hits and runs scored. He led the majors with nine leadoff home runs, and became the first rookie in history to hit 30 homers and steal 25 bases in the same season. Arizona believed Young was a star in the making and he seemingly made the game look easy.

“No, it wasn’t easy then,” said Young, who somehow managed to finish fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting that year behind Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Hunter Pence. “Things just worked out for me and I swung the bat well that year. But this game never gets easy.”

Unlike many up and coming youngsters, Young wasn’t one who had greatness anointed to him since his days as an amateur. He wasn’t tabbed as a can’t-miss prospect and he wasn’t even an everyday player for his high school team in suburban Houston until his senior season. Young played his high school ball at national powerhouse Bellaire High School, a school that cranks out state championships and plenty of talent, including the likes of Chuck Knoblauch, Jose Cruz, Jr., Bubba Crosby and even Emeka Okafor played basketball there.

He was expected to be drafted somewhere in the sixth-to-tenth round, but he broke his arm in a collision just three days before the June selections began. Despite the injury, Young still possessed plenty of athleticism to attract scouts and the Chicago White Sox eventually selected him in the 16th-round of the 2001 draft.

“From my school district you weren’t seeing too many guys getting drafted,” Young told me in the Yankees locker room. “So to get the opportunity to play pro ball was something cool for me and my family.”

He was only 18 when he started playing professionally with a White Sox affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League and he was so unpolished that he spent two seasons in rookie ball.  But in 2003, he was an Appalachian League All-Star. Two years later he was a Baseball America first team Minor League All-Star and the White Sox Minor League Player of the Year. However, following the 2005 season, Young was traded to Arizona with Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino for Javier Vazquez.

With his plate command, power, speed, glove and arm he was supposed to be a five-tool wunderkind. But for every five-tooler who has delivered on the hype (Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds), there are plenty of others who have failed (Ruben Rivera, Lasting Milledge). Young falls into neither category, but he has fallen quite a long way since his days in the desert. During his time in Arizona, he hit 13 leadoff home runs, nine walk-off home runs and five dingers in the post-season. He hit at least 20 long balls four times, stole at least 20 bases three times and made an All-Star team in 2010.

When his production and durability started slipping in 2012, the Diamondbacks flipped Young to Oakland in exchange for infielders Cliff Pennington and Yordy Cabrera. During his only season with the Athletics, he hit .200 with 12 homers and 10 stolen bases in 107 games. It was the lowest average and OPS (.659) of his career. Despite being just 30 years old, Young was viewed by almost everyone as being on the verge of washed up. But the Mets thought otherwise and signed him to a one year, $7.25 Million deal in November of 2013.

The deal turned out to be a disaster and Young slumped so badly — hitting a paltry .205/.283/.346 with just eight homers and an OPS+ of 81 in 88 games — that the Mets benched him and then released him in August. Despite becoming the object of fan ire at Citi Field, Young didn’t stay unemployed long. Just twelve days later the Yankees scooped him up on a minor-league deal and he had a sudden resurgence, slashing .282/.354/.521 with eight doubles, three homers and 10 RBI in 23 September games.

“Not sure,” Young said of what changed going from Queens to the Bronx. “You just keep playing hard and good things happen. Keep working hard and working towards the goal and good things happen for you.”

Young performed well enough to make the Yankees think he’d make a solid fourth outfielder and bring some right-handed balance against left-handed pitchers. During the offseason, they signed him to a one-year deal worth $2.5 Million and he has given the team a bang for their buck. On Friday night, he drilled a three-run homer in his home-town to erase a 2-0 deficit and give the Yankees a much needed win over the Astros. It was his third go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later as a Yankee; since he joined the team last September, no other player on the team has more than one such homer.

In the month of June, Young hit .328 with four homers, 12 RBIs and a .911 OPS. He was a bust with the Mets, but at 31 years old, he’s hardly over the hill.  He can still hit for power, and his speed and defense both remain assets. He also has mashed lefties this season, as he currently owns an insane .378/.443/.721 slash line against southpaws. Young said the time he spent with the Yankees last season helped him feel comfortable and he was lucky enough to be welcomed by one of the players he most admires, Derek Jeter.

“It was a pleasure. It was an honor just to hang out, talk shop and pick the brain of somebody who played the game the right way for such a long time,” said Young, who has enjoyed the Yankees atmosphere. “You always try to take notes from guys like that.”

He started the season the way he’d entered his first days with the Yankees late last year, an extra outfielder who could provide right-handed pop off the bench and serviceable defense at all three spots. But with Jacoby Ellsbury still on the shelf, Young has seen more playing time in recent days and he has started the past eleven games. He has taken advantage of the opportunity and he’s also having a blast doing so.

“It’s fun. It’s a lot of energy, a lot of passionate fans and everything is on a big stage,” said Young. “So it makes the game fun.”

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in Baseball