Sunday, August 12, 2012

Eric Young Jr. has become a force for the Colorado Rockies

Eric Young, Jr. has refused to be ignored in 2012.
Despite a heart-wrenching loss for the Colorado Rockies on Sunday in San Francisco, a game in which the Rockies dropped 9-6 after clawing back from a 3-0 deficit, the club is starting to see a silver lining to a dreary season.

That silver lining is coming in the form of some of the emerging young players, headed up by Eric Young, Jr. The speedster has been written off from the beginning of his career. Despite an abundance of tools, the criticism for Young always seemed to outweigh the praise.

He's bounced back-and-forth between Colorado Springs and the big leagues since 2009. His critics say that he doesn't have a defensive position. They say he doesn't have the quick feet needed to play second base, and doesn't have the arm strength to play in the outfield.

Out of options headed into the 2012 season, all signs pointed to the Rockies looking to deal Young, who they had once viewed as a top prospect. Instead, the son of a Rockie who will never be forgotten, has done nothing but prove everyone wrong and play like he should have been getting more time from the beginning.

Young made the roster as a guy who could make a difference with his speed. He could come in as a pinch-runner and steal bases and get into the pitchers head. Or, he could be a pinch-hitter who would be used in situations where the Rockies needed someone who could stay out of a double play.

That scenario was working well. The pride of Chandler-Gilbert Community College wrecked havoc on the base paths. When he would step on first base late in games, everyone in the park knew what was going to happen. The pitcher could throw over to first base as much as he wanted, the fact remained, at some point, he would have to throw the ball to the plate, which resulted in Young taking off, far more often than not, landing Young on second base easily.

It seemed the Young had found his niche. He had a solid role as a guy who nearly guaranteed the team a rally when he was inserted. He was becoming a very valuable tool off of the bench.

The 2012 season has been a good one for Young. He has made it clear that he is a player who belongs in the big leagues. His improvement at the plate has been noticeable, but one area that hasn't received much attention is how much better he is in the outfield than he was in the past. In 2011, he looked like an infielder forced to play outfield. He made some plays due to his speed from time-to-time, but didn't seem comfortable. That hasn't been the case for him this season, however, as he has taken far better routes, and his arm strength hasn't been an issue even once.

While it looks like Young has found his role as a bench player, he has made it clear through his recent play that being a bench player isn't what he will be limited to. Getting a few rare starts in a row, Young has taken advantage. It is quickly becoming clear that it is going to be extremely difficult for Jim Tracy to not put the speedster in the starting lineup on a daily basis.

Young went to California on last Sunday night hitting .267 with a .338 on-base percentage. He comes back to Denver one week later staring at a batting average of .306, and an on-base percentage of .370.

The reality is, Young is still fighting a battle to prove that he belongs in the lineup most days. The Rockies have Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer and Tyler Colvin to rove the outfield. Second base is a spot the Rockies seem intent on not allowing Young to play, so he will have to continue to hit in order to play regularly.

However, one thing that Young has made clear is that he is a guy who isn't a smart guy to bet against. The odds have been stacked against him from the beginning. He has been written off since he first put on a Rockies uniform. He has been forgotten about in conversations about guys who can be contributors for the Rockies.

Watching Young work, watching him improve his game, all while never complaining and never making acting discouraged, makes him fun to root for. He is a classic example of how hard work can pay off and how determination and discipline can help a person achieve their goals.

In a bad year all the way around for the Rockies, EY has been a huge positive for this franchise.

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