Young Jr. ready for Futures Game
Second base prospect set for center stage with U.S. Team
Colorado Rockies second base prospect Eric Young Jr. is chasing the elusive 100-steal plateau, tied atop the Minor League leaders with 48 steals. Already, he's just four stolen bases shy of the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox' single-season record of 51, set back in 1992.
Young leads the Pacific Coast League with 76 runs scored, and those runs have been important, as his spark atop the Sky Sox lineup have helped pace the club to a 5 ½-game lead atop the league's Pacific North Division.
But ask Young of what accomplishment he's proudest so far this season and he shares an off-field moment that took place recently.
It occurred on June 26, prior to his game against the host Sacramento River Cats. He was chatting with his buddy, River Cats infielder/outfielder Eric Patterson, who was not in the lineup that evening.
"He said to me, 'I'm excited because I'll get to watch my favorite player in the PCL play tonight!'" Young said. "And I asked, 'Who's that?' And he said, 'Man, it's you!' ... The respect from my peers, things like that, get me more excited than numbers."
This weekend, fans from all over the country will get to see what Eric Patterson is so excited about, as Young will be on center stage as a member of the U.S. Team in Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game.
The 11th annual XM All-Star Futures Game, pitting the best Minor League prospects from the United States against the best from the rest of the World, will be held at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on All-Star Sunday, July 12, at 1 p.m. CT. MLB.com will provide complete coverage before, during and after the game, which can be seen live on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on Gameday.
But if the respect of his peers is his proudest accomplishment, there is no doubt that the Futures Game nod is his proudest honor.
"I've known about the game and it was always something I wanted to play in," Young said. "I knew it was for the players considered 'top prospects' so I guess now my name is up there as well."
Young's name, of course, was already familiar to baseball fans and, especially, Rockies fans.
His dad, Eric Young Sr., currently an analyst for ESPN Baseball Tonight, spent 18 seasons in the big leagues with seven different teams but his heyday came as a Colorado Rockie when he was selected by that club from the Dodgers in the expansion draft in November 1992. He homered in the first-ever home at-bat for the Rockies on April 9, 1993, and participated in the 1996 All-Star Game as a member of the Rockies.
Young Jr. was drafted by the Rockies in the 30th round of 2003 out of high school in New Jersey and signed the next spring as a draft-and-follow pick. His pro career at short-season Casper was cut short when an errant pickoff throw shattered his cheekbone, but he returned to the club in 2005 and hit .301 with 25 steals.
In 2006, his first full season, he moved up to Class A Asheville, where he batted .295 and led the Minors with 87 steals. His 73 stolen bases in 2007 at Advanced A Modesto ranked second in the Minors, while he hit .291.
Last summer, Young moved up to Double-A Tulsa and while he stole 46 bases, still good for third in the Texas League, even though he missed several weeks following surgery on a broken hamate bone. The good news for the switch-hitter is that he's now had both hamate bones removed so that problem will never recur.
And if it's true, as the saying goes, that it's an ill wind that blows no good, then Young's injury may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. To make up for the lost at-bats, the Rockies sent him to the Arizona Fall League and it was there where he really put his name on the prospect map.
Playing the unfamiliar position of center fielder, he led the league with a .430 average and 20 steals for five-time champion Phoenix, while showing off both his versatility and his quickness to adapt to new situations.
"All the infield spots on the team were taken up but the Rockies felt the year I had warranted sending me there any way they could, so the best option for me was to learn the outfield and get my at-bats," Young said. "Plus they wanted to see if I was capable of playing the outfield and have that in my back pocket. Second base is my position but now people know they can put me in the outfield in an emergency."
Young has only played at second this season at Colorado Springs, and has been working hard on the finer points of the game, now that he knows he's just the proverbial "one phone call away" from the Majors.
"I think I've improved defensively, in that I'm more comfortable out there, I'm smoother," he said. "And offensively, just like any year you have your ups and downs but now when I'm in one of those valleys I think it's not for as long as it used to be, so that's an improvement."
But while his bat and his defense will certainly factor into his eventual call to the Majors, it is his speed on the bases that is that calling card. And this year, more than ever, Young has concentrated on making the subtle transition to that next level of base-stealing excellence.
"When I was in the lower levels, it was just 'run-run-run' without thinking about the situation," said Young, whose base-stealing success rate so far this year is a career-best 84 percent. "Now I'm studying the game, being patient, picking catchers' brains to get their mindset, and studying pitchers to figure out their tendencies. I don't feel like I have to steal all the time now. I'm picking my battles."
It's helped that one of the Sky Sox' catchers is 12-year veteran Sal Fasano.
"I talk a lot with him because he's a great defensive catcher who's seen all the ins and outs," Young said. "He gives me an idea of what he'd do with a base-stealer like me."
And, of course, Young continues to chat daily with the veteran he considers his best friend, his dad. The focus of those talks has changed over the years, though, as Young has moved up through the ranks of the Minors.
"Now it's mostly scouting reports," he said. "Because many of the guys I'm seeing in this league he played with or against at some point, so he gives me a heads up on their tendencies."
Young will get to have some of those talks face to face after Sunday's Futures Game, when he flies from St. Louis to Portland, Oregon, to represent the Sky Sox on the Pacific Coast League team in Wednesday's Triple-A All-Star Game. And Eric Young Sr.? He'll be doing the color analysis for ESPN on the game's telecast.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.