Who Needs A-Rod?
Quietly taking over at shortstop, hot-hitting Michael Young has sparked Texas's stunning start
When the Rangers' Michael Young volunteered to switch positions this spring—he moved from second base to shortstop after Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees—he did it as he does most things, without a fuss. "It was a five-minute conversation, and only because I made it that long," says Texas manager Buck Showalter. "There's a real sincerity to his game, a real humbleness. There are no agendas."
While playing slick defense in his new spot—through Sunday he had made only two errors—Young has also quietly become one of baseball's best leadoff hitters. He was batting .352 with, a .398 on-base percentage and led the AL in hits (38) and multihit games (14). Pruned of high-priced veterans like Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro, surprising Texas sat atop the AL West with a 16-9 record.
Young's altruism averted a logjam at his old position. Alfonso Soriano, a second baseman obtained from the Yankees in the Rodriguez trade, was resistant to playing shortstop or a corner outfield spot. Having played shortstop frequently in the minor leagues, Young has adapted quickly. "Range-wise, you have the same ground to cover," he says. "Obviously you have a longer throw [from short], but I've enjoyed that because you can't really cut it loose from second too often."
When A-Rod was playing short and Young was at second, the two were so comfortable playing together, Young says, they rarely had to speak to communicate. Rodriguez was a mentor to Young; they often sat together on team charters, spending hours discussing games. "With his arm strength and footwork he wasn't going to have a problem," says Rodriguez of the position switch.
At the plate Young has an excellent eye for the strike zone and sees a lot of pitches (3.82 per plate appearance) but rarely walks. "Honestly, I'm never looking to work a walk," he says. "I'm looking to go up and make hard contact every single time."
"He's more of an old-school hitter," says Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. "He's aggressive, but he's very good about swinging at strikes." He bats in a Jaramillo student's trademark stance, weight distributed evenly between his front and back feet, his body square to the pitcher.
Young hits lefties and righties equally well, and the majority of his hits go to the opposite field. With two strikes Young will put his front foot down earlier in the pitcher's windup; Jaramillo says this sharpens his pitch recognition and perception of the zone. Last season no other hitter in the American League had more hits on two-strike counts than Young, who had 86. In the nightcap of last Saturday's doubleheader sweep of the Red Sox, Young found himself in two-strike counts three times against righthander Pedro Martinez. The first time he took two balls, fouled off three pitches and then flied out to the warning track. The second time he had an RBI single and the third time an RBI double.
Like his friend Hank Blalock, the Rangers' 23-year-old third baseman who signed a five-year, $15 million extension in the off-season, Young, 27, accepted a new contract from the club on Opening Day, a four-year, $10.5 million deal. Along with Soriano, 28, and first baseman Mark Teixeira, 24, they give the Rangers a youthful, potent and relatively inexpensive infield on a team that's trying to rebuild after four straight last-place finishes. "There's a great dynamic in our clubhouse; we've jelled quickly? Young says. "We're winning, and it's a fun atmosphere right now."
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