If there is any doubt how advanced Devil Rays top prospect Delmon Young's knowledge of hitting is, consider this: leftfielder Carl Crawford, a veteran of 3 1/2 seasons and an All-Star Game, this winter called him for batting tips.
"You sit down and talk to him about hitting, and you'll be amazed," Crawford said. "His mental (approach) is what separates him from anybody his age. His IQ of baseball is at another level for a kid his age."
What Young, 20, does with that knowledge has been impressive, too: First pick of the 2003 draft, Baseball America's top prospect in 2004, minor-league player of the year in 2005.
So while it was noteworthy Young showed up at spring training on Tuesday a tad more conversational and a lot less confrontational than in the past, the bigger issue is when the multitalented outfielder will arrive in the middle of the Rays lineup.
Young seemed careful to not come off too cocky - the result of another conversation with Crawford - but made it clear in his clipped replies that he thinks he is ready to play in the big leagues.
"I thought I could play at 18," he said.
Though the potential move of Aubrey Huff from rightfield to third base could create the ideal opening, Young stuck mostly to the "anything can happen" and "I don't make the decisions around here" answers in a cordial chat with reporters. When asked whether his goal was to make the jump to the majors this spring, he said simply, "You know."
Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said it was premature - especially with a new front office, manager and coaches - to speculate whether Young could make the opening day roster with an impressive spring.
But, perhaps more importantly, Friedman also didn't say he could not. Or that major-league service time or arbitration eligibility would be issues in making the decision.
"It will be based on where he is in his development process, putting him in a position to have success right out of the gate and the composition of our roster," Friedman said. "If we think he's ready to play in the major leagues, the answer is yes."
As much as Young did in two minor-league seasons - hitting .332 with 25 homers and 116 RBIs in 131 games at Class A Charleston (S.C.) in 2004, then .336 with 20 homers and 71 RBIs in 84 games at Double-A Montgomery in 2005 and .285 with 6 homers and 28 RBIs in 52 games at Triple-A Durham - he admits he could have done better.
One criticism has been his low amount of walks and supposed lack of plate discipline, evidenced by four walks in 234 Triple-A plate appearances and a .303 on-base percentage. But Young doesn't necessarily think he needs to be more selective either. "Vladimir (Guerrero) has a nice career without doing it," he said, then allowing, "It would be something to improve on."
Young previously has shown a more antagonistic side including the infamous September conference call when he blasted the Rays for being "cheap" in declining to promote him to the majors then and promising to leave as soon as he hits free agency.
But the Rays are under new management, and Young, who met face-to-face with Friedman in November during the GM meetings and at the December winter meetings, said his issues were with the previous regime, not the new executives. "It smoothed over once they took ownership," Young said.
He said he is excited to be back on the field, in good shape after adding about 15 pounds of muscle, and eager for a chance to showcase his tools and "try to do my thing."
While Young and Crawford were working out in Arizona and talking on the phone, Young provided in-depth analysis on his theories of hitting. Crawford offered back some useful advice, too.
"I just want him to stay level-headed a little bit," Crawford said. "You know what I'm saying around (the media) and around the clubhouse, too, with guys that have been around, kind of have respect for the players that have been here. We understand he grew up in the clubhouse (as the young brother of veteran major-leaguer Dmitri), but we just hope he stays on that level to where other guys don't think he's getting ahead of himself."