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Diamondbacks All-Time Top 50: #13, Chris Young

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It took a while for everything to come together, but once it finally did, Chris Young’s power-speed threat, combined with his elite defense, made him one of the Diamondbacks’ most dynamic players for a four-year period.

NLDS: Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks, Game 2 Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 8/48/14
  • Seasons: 2006-2012
  • Stats: 885 games, .239/.318/.437 = .775 OPS, 95 OPS+. 14.7 bWAR
  • Best season: 2010 - 156 games, .257/.341/.452 = .793 OPS, 108 OPS+, 5.4 bWAR

Chris Young came to the Diamondbacks in one of the better trades in team history. Arizona was between a rock and a harp place, with Javier Vazquez having a guaranteed right to be traded on his side after coming over to the Diamondbacks from the Yankees in exchange for Randy Johnson. With no choice but to move him, the Diamondbacks sent Vazquez to the Chicago White Sox for starter, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, set-up man, Luis Vizcaino, and heralded outfield prospect, Chris Young. Given the lack of leverage Arizona possessed, one could claim that Arizona took Chicago to the cleaners. While did receive one stellar and two average years out of Vazquez, it came at the trade cost plus $36 million. Meanwhile, Arizona received 1.3 WAR for about $6 million from Vizcaino and Hernandez in 2006 before letting both of them leave at the end of the season. Then they tacked on Chris Young.

Young’s time with the Diamondbacks did not start off great. Almost immediately after being traded, Young injured himself during one of his notoriously rigorous workouts. This delayed his debut with the AAA Tucson Sidewinders, and possibly his MLB debut as well. However, when he finally received the call in early August, Young made the best of his cup of coffee. His triple slash was a relatively mundane .243/.308/.386, good for only a 73 OPS+. However, he showed some decent pop in his bat, and also showcased his top-of-the-lineup speed. Additionally, he showed off what would become his defining trait in Arizona, his gazelle-like defense in center field, where his long strides and solid instincts made him one of the best defensive center fielders in the game for a three-year stretch.

Young showed enough promise in 2006 that Arizona turned to him as the starting center fielder in 2007. Young responded by establishing rookie franchise highs in homers (32), runs (85), steals (27), doubles (29), slugging percentage (.467) and extra-base hits (64) while finishing 4th in NL Rookie-of-the-Year. He was also a positive contributor to the team’s 2007 playoff run, batting .280 with two home runs in the two series. This performance was enough to convince the Diamondbacks that they had their center fielder of the future. In April of 2008, the Diamondbacks signed Young to a 6-year/$26.5 million extension.

Young rewarded the Diamondbacks’ faith in him by improving as a player in 2008. Then 2009 happened. The league’s scouting caught up to Chris Young, and he was slow to adapt. Despite still being a walk-taking machine, Young’s overall plate-discipline and personal pressure to be a middle-of-the-order presence led to Chris Young looking up at the Uecker Line and he was sent back down to AAA in early August when he was batting a terrible .194 on the season. Only twenty days later, Arizona recalled Young, looking for any help they could find both in the field and at the plate. Young finished the season strong, and as one of the team’s best hitters down the stretch, going .263/.351/.508 with eight home runs over the team’s final 31 games.

Young carried his August/September success into the following season. While the Diamondbacks limped to a 65-97 finish, Young kept himself in the spotlight until the final weeks of the season, making the All-Star Game in July and taking a run at the rare 30/30 season in September. Young finished the season finished the season with 27 home runs and 28 stolen bases, making him one of the top power-speed threats in baseball.

In 2011, Young largely repeated his performance at the plate while also posting a staggering 20 defensive runs saved, the most in the National League by five, and second only to Austin Jackson at 29 for the Major League lead among center fielders. As part of the unlikely 2011 Arizona playoff team, Young finished second in the NLDS MVP voting, posting a .389/.450/.944 triple slash with three home runs and two stolen bases. Unfortunately for Young, Ryan Braun was a thing in 2011. First he helped the Brewers win the NLDS, sending Young home for the winter. Second, the rules regarding voting for the gold gloves for outfielders changed. In 2011, the rules changed so that each outfield position was voted on separately, instead of outfielders being voted on as a whole unit. This led to Ryan Braun also taking home Gold Glove honors, and Young being left on the outside looking in, despite being the far superior fielder.

In 2012 Young entered the season with a chip on his shoulder. Through Arizona’s first 11 games, he was batting an insane .410/.500/.897 with five home runs and 13 RBI. His OPS was second only to Matt Kemp in all of baseball. Then, on April 17th, in a game against Pittsburgh, Young’s all-out defensive play turned his career on its head. Making a spectacular catch, Young collided with the outfield wall and injured his shoulder, sending him to the DL. One month and a day later, with Justin Upton playing through an injured thumb and Jason Kubel demonstrating the folly of his contract, Young still led the struggling Diamondbacks in nearly every offensive category, including both home runs (5) and more importantly, RBI (13). Desperate to find offense from somewhere, Young was brought back from the DL ahead of schedule, by nearly three weeks. From the middle of May through the All-Star break, Young batted a woful .143/.235/.256. Young rebounded nicely in the second half of the season, putting up a respectable line of .261/.327/.471. The walks and the speed were still there, but the home run power was gone. By September, Young was almost blessedly relegated to pinch-hitting duties to make way for a cup of coffee audition for Adam Eaton.

Once the 2012 season came to a close, Kevin Towers wasted no time moving on from Young. Within the first days of the offseason, Young was sent to Oakland in exchange for Cliff Pennington and Yordy Cabrera, who was then sent on to Miami for Heath Bell. The final season of Young’s original extension did not go well, as his pop-up heavy batting approach did not play well in the Colosseum. After struggling mightily that season, Young went on to play for both New York teams, first the Mets, and then the Yankees. It was during his time with the Yankees that Young redefined himself. Now playing left field instead of center, and being used primarily against left-handed pitchers, Young once again was a player garnering a fair amount of attention as a highly productive platoon player capable of playing any outfield position. Young’s time with the Yankees landed him a two-year deal with the Red Sox, which came to an end at the end of 2017.

It’s hard to tell what the future holds for Chris Young. In 2016 Young was one of the better part-time/platoon outfielders in baseball. 2017 saw Young’s numbers come down significantly. It could be that age has caught up to Young. It could be that he simply had a down year. He’ll be 34 for the 2018 season if he chooses to continue playing. Given the way this season’s free agent market has played out, Young is the sort of player who might get picked up at the beginning of spring training by a team looking to add some outfield depth versus left-handed pitching. Or, Young might simply decide he has had enough and return to his home in Houston. Either way, Young remains, for now, one of Arizona’s leading playoff performers, including leading the team in postseason home runs with five. While he had his ups and downs in Arizona, it took a significant injury to derail him once everything finally clicked. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he still finds his way onto this list (albeit ranked much lower) in another 20 years.