It was a close battle. 83 votes in, this was a serious four-way fight, but down the stretch, it was Young who pulled away. He was certainly the most Unsung of the candidates. Before Opening Day 2019, you would have to have been a particularly devoted D-backs fan, with an impressive, in-depth knowledge of the Arizona farm system, to have even heard of Alex Young. To find him on our prospect list, you’d have had to go a long way down our rankings - and, don’t forget, that was before the plethora of picks from this year’s draft. In November 2018, Michael McDermott wrote the following, while listing Young as the #25 prospect in the Diamondbacks organization:
Assuming Young isn’t poached off the roster in the Rule 5 Draft, although I won’t be sad if he is, the team will complete the transition to full time reliever. In 2019, he’s likely headed back to Reno unless he has some crazy good Spring and even that might not be enough. Young still has some value as a match-up reliever with an average FB/SL combo that will play up more against LHH. If Young can consistently get LHH out while hold his own against RHH enough, it may earn him a chance to get a trial run at the MLB level. 2019 will likely be Young’s last year to show the organization that he’s worth keeping around.
Ouch. Still, at least we mentioned him. For Fangraphs did their dive into our prospects as late as the end of May 2019. At that point, they went all the way down to #32... and Alex still wasn’t to be found anywhere on their list. As I mentioned: Young definitely nailed the “Unsung” part of the exam for this category. But he made his major-league debut less than a month after that Fangraphs piece, and stuck in the Diamondbacks’ rotation for most of the remainder of the season. Indeed, he was already honored by the SnakePit, winning the Performance of the Year ‘Pittie for his pitching on September 7 - certainly among, if not the best outings ever by a Diamondbacks’ rookie.
It was a remarkable resurrection. Back in 2016, Young was ranked at high as #3 by MLB.com in Arizona’s (admittedly, then considerably thinner) farm system, with an ETA of 2018. They said, “Young commands his tick-above-average fastball very well, throwing it with plenty of sink to elicit ground-ball outs. His wipeout slider is his best pitch, and it can be a true out pitch for the southpaw. Young’s changeup is a bit behind the other two pitches, but it should give him a third Major League-average offering as he continues to use it more consistently. Young goes right after hitters with a reliever’s mentality and a plus mound presence, but he has the command and repertoire to remain in a rotation.”
But he seemed to struggle in the higher levels of the farm system. Though he did reach AAA in 2018, he put up a 5.96 ERA for Reno that season. This year, Michael seemed to have nailed it, with Young starting out in the Aces’ bullpen. But in mid-May, he was moved out of necessity there back to the rotation, though the results there were not great in either role. While likely not helped by the Pacific Coast League’s rabbit ball, Young’s overall ERA was higher still in 2010, at 6.09. But following the loss of Luke Weaver at the end of May, for an extended period, the Diamondbacks needed a starter. Though even then, Young was far from the initial option.
Taylor Clarke had already joined the rotation in place of Zack Godley. Jon Duplantier was next up, but over his two starts he was charged with seven earned runs over eight innings, before going on the injured list with an injured shoulder. Then, Arizona tried using Archie Bradley as an “opener”: that experiment lasted 1.1 innings, Archie allowing four earned runs. The D-backs finally even returned Godley to a starter’s role. He gave up nine hits, two walks and five earned runs over just four innings. All of which led to Young getting a call - I suspect as much because he happened to be on rotation, having started for Reno the same day as Godley did for the D-backs.
But, what do you know? Young got the win, tossing five innings of three-hit ball, the only damage a solo home-run by Brandon Belt. The 25-year-old said, “I’ve prepared myself my whole life for this. I’ve been not at the big-league level, but at the College World Series level, and those are still intense games. I kind of reminded myself about that. That’s what I felt out there... Regardless of what happens, I’m just excited to be here. Whatever opportunity I have, I’m just excited to go out and do the best I possibly can for the team.” He didn’t have to wait long, though due to off-days, his next start didn’t come until ten days after Young made his debut.
That went even better, Young tossing six hitless innings against the Rockies at Chase. Only three starters in franchise history have had outings longer than two innings without a hit: Randy Johnson, Edwin Jackson and, now, Young. He was lifted by Torey Lovullo, who said: “There was no way he was going to get three more innings out of his pitch count, for his health. And, to me, there is nothing more important than the good health of our young players.” Young understood: “It was frustrating just because I wanted to go back out there. But it was more of the game situation where it was a 1-0 game... I want to do what’s best for the team. And that’s what Torey thought, and I agreed with it.”
So, including a relief outing, to this point, Young had thrown 13.1 innings, allowing one run on three hits with nine strikeouts. That’s a .071 batting average against. Of course, that couldn’t last forever, as the book on Alex for opposing hitters no longer resembled the back of a beermat. There were good starts and poor ones, wins and losses. But the best was yet to come, with that stellar outing against the Reds in Cincinnati, about which we’ve already say quite enough. By the end of the season, Merrill Kelly and Robby Ray were the only players still with the Arizona Diamondbacks who had made more starts than Young. Not bad for a man who started the year as a minor-league reliever.