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8 Who May be Great

The Five-Tool Guy: Chris Young

Posted: Thursday March 22, 2007 11:58AM; Updated: Thursday March 22, 2007 11:58AM
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Arizona Diamondbacks' Chris Young.
Arizona Diamondbacks' Chris Young.
Robert Beck/SI
8 Who May Be Great

By Jacob Luft

Eric Byrnes thought he'd seen a ghost. On a television in the visitors' locker room at San Francisco's AT&T Park last Aug. 22, fellow Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Young was streaking toward the wall in center in pursuit of a low screamer off the bat of Randy Winn. His back to home plate, Young leaped for the ball at the last possible second and made a show-stopping, over-the-shoulder catch. Considering the city and the 24 on the back of Young's uniform, Byrnes's reaction was understandable. "I said, 'Oh, my God, it's Willie reborn!'" recalls the veteran, who had been replaced in center by Young earlier that inning.

Likening any 22-year-old to Willie Mays borders on heresy, but that won't be the last time Young makes a teammate say hey. With his plate command, power, speed, glove and arm he has already been lavished with that sacred label of the baseball Establishment: the five-tool player. But for every five-tooler who has delivered on the hype (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr.), there are many more who have failed (Alex Escobar, Ruben Rivera). "He's polished," says Byrnes, who will move from center to left to make room for Young. "All around, he's polished."

The White Sox' 16th-round pick in 2001 out of Bellaire High in Houston, Young was so unpolished that he spent two seasons in rookie ball. It wasn't until Arizona acquired him in December 2005 (a four-player deal that sent righthander Javier Vazquez to Chicago) that he began to shoot up the prospect lists. Under the tutelage of Triple A hitting coach Lorenzo Bundy, Young reduced his strikeouts to 83 in '06, from 129 in '05, without sacrificing power: His 21 home runs in 402 at bats at Triple A Tucson were roughly on par with his 26 in 466 at bats the previous season at Double A Birmingham. He also stole a total of 80 bases in his last three seasons in the minors. "I have power, but I'm not trying to necessarily be a power hitter," says Young, who'll begin the season batting leadoff. "I have speed, but I'm not stealing 100 bases either. I would love to be a 30-30 man, but I have to keep working."

Diamondbacks hitting coach Kevin Seitzer loves Young's bat speed, particularly his "explosive" swing on inside pitches. "He's got quick hands, a short stroke and power to all fields," says Seitzer. Young will join high-ceiling prospects Stephen Drew (shortstop) and Carlos Quentin (rightfield) as the latest of the Baby Backs to be thrown into the lineup as rookies. "You only see a handful of them like Chris," says veteran first baseman Tony Clark, who then sounds a cautionary note. "And you also only see a handful of them who realize their potential."