Eric Young Junior first became a part of the Rockies organization nearly 21 years ago, when Colorado selected his father Eric Young in the November 1992 expansion draft. He watched as his father hit the first Denver MLB home run in MLB history. In 2003, the Rockies took a flyer on him, drafting him out of high school in the 30th round.
Junior took after his father in a few critical ways...work ethic and blazing speed. His defense and hitting never reached his father's level, but the youngster still climbed the ladder onto the MLB scene. After struggling through inconsistency and fielding woes early in his career, Young finally broke out in 2012 in both halves of innings, hitting .316/.377/.448 (110 OPS+, 113 wRC+) and dramatically improving his routes in the outfield. The result was a 1.7 fWAR/1.9 rWAR season in less than 200 plate appearances.
With his improved hitting and defense added to his premier tool (speed), Young was primed to be a critical part of the 2013 Rockies in the outfield. In fact, the Rockies felt confident enough in Young's ability that he was the only reserve outfielder on the Opening Day roster, with Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson and Tyler Colvin in AAA.
Ten weeks later, Eric Young Jr. was designated for assignment.
For the Rockies to reverse course so quickly on a fan favorite and long-time Rockie, something terrible must have happened. Indeed, it did.
Young's defense reversed back to adventurous levels. The BABIP spike he experienced in 2012 disappeared, as was the occasion power he had flashed. In his 2013 time with the Rockies, his ISO was below Reid Brignac and Charlie Culberson.
Worst of all, Young' premier skill had become a liability. His struggles elsewhere on the field seemingly put pressure on him to contribute in the best way he knew how...to run. Young became aggressive, but way too aggressive. In 12 steal attempts, Young was caught four times. It was more than just his suddenly ineffective steal attempts.
Young ran into outs in every way a player can. He was out at third trying to extend a double. He was picked off. He was out trying to reach third on a ground ball to short. By the time the Rockies pulled the plug, Young led MLB in TOOTBLAN, and as a part time player to boot. Young went from a 2-2.5 tool player in 2012 to a zero tool player in 2013, and in ten weeks, Young had racked up -0.9 fWAR and -1.5 rWAR, though WAR was not required to see the outfielder was having a miserable season.
Young was out of options and could not be sent to the minors for a tune-up. In mid-June, Colorado dealt him to the Mets for Collin McHugh, a pitcher who had also recently been designated for assignment.
Grade With Rockies: F
|2013 - Eric Young Jr||57||165||22||40||9||3||1||6||11||33||8||4||.242||.290||.352|
Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs all have slight fluctuations in how they evaluated Young's season, but they all agree it was very poor. (Note: Overall WARmay not equal the sum of the components due to rounding and positional adjustments).
|Eric Young Jr - 2013 WAR||Bat||Field||Baserunning||Overall|
Mark Simon writes for ESPN out of New York, often focusing on the New York Mets. A couple weeks into Young's tenure in New York, Simon tweeted that Young was the "best replacement level player in Mets franchise history." That phrase struck me as particularly apt. At the end of the day, Young generally has not been an overall asset, but in bursts, he can be the most dangerous player on either team. In case Rockies fans had forgotten that, Young reminded them August 6.
As it turned out, Young was neither a replacement level player nor a below replacement level player in New York. The switch out east changed something in the 28-year-old, as his defense, baserunning and offense all improved. Young played 91 games for the Mets, starting 90, and while his OPS of .647 barely increased from his poor Rockies stretch (.641), it represented a 19 point jump in OPS+.
More importantly, Young vastly improved his base thievery, swiping 38 bases in 45 tries that secured him the 2013 stolen base title.
As a Met, Young was worth 0.9 rWAR and 1.7 rWAR.
The outfield is a crowded place on the Rockies depth chart even after Tyler Colvin's implosion and departure in free agency. Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon are all set to return. Thus, the Rockies aren't likely to miss their former erratic dynamo. Meanwhile, Young very much remains in the Mets' plans. Whether Young returns as the starting left fielder or settles into the role more suited to his skills on the bench, Young will be back on the field in 2014, likely confounding the fans of opposing fans and Mets fans alike.