Young undeterred by competition

Young undeterred by competition

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Eric Young Jr. had more reason than anyone to follow the player acquisitions the Rockies made this past offseason, since many of them affected him.

The switch-hitting Young, who made his Major League debut during the playoff run of 2009, went into the winter as a key part of the bench. Then the Rockies signed left-handed-hitting first baseman Jason Giambi and right-handed-hitting utility man Melvin Mora.

In doing the roster math, it seems Young, 24, is more likely to be a key part of the team at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Young, however, hasn't changed his focus on sharpening up at second base, his main position, and being able to play third base and the outfield corners as if he were the utility man at the Major League level.

"If I show I've been improving, I can help this team, so I didn't concern myself with other signings," Young said. "Those acquisitions are going to be bonuses to help us win. I'm not really worried about that. I know I can help this team in some capacity."

Young, whose father represented the Rockies in the 1996 All-Star Game as a second baseman, led all Minor Leaguers with 118 runs scored and was batting .299 when the Rockies promoted him in August. Young had limited outfield experience, but the Rockies needed him to play center field when Dexter Fowler suffered a bruised right shin. Young finished the year with a .246 average, one home run and four steals in 30 games with the big club.

Although the Rockies signed Giambi, Mora and non-roster outfielder Jay Payton, they ended 2009 with a positive first impression of Young.

His Rockies teammates and the organization's off-field personnel generally agree that Young is their fastest player, and will be a threat on the bases once he gains experience. Manager Jim Tracy praised the quality of Young's at-bats during the speedster's callup, even though some came against high-caliber pitchers in important games.

The question is where Young will best help the Rockies.

Last spring, then-manager Clint Hurdle gave Young regular duty at second base during Spring Training. He made several defensive mistakes early, sometimes because of youth and sometimes because he wanted to impress, but improved as the spring progressed.

Tom Runnells, who began last season as Colorado Springs manager, said Young continued to make strides defensively during the first month of the season. Runnells was promoted to bench coach with the Rockies when Tracy replaced Hurdle as manager.

When it came time to call on Young, Runnells said the Rockies knew he had been putting in the work.

"He's never afraid to work, never afraid to try new things," Runnells said. "There's no fear in him. The one thing that you're always going to get from E.Y. is he's going to give you everything and more that he's got.

"Is he polished? No. And I think that is what the purists will always try to get a player to be, polished at his position. I'm not sure I'll ever have an answer if that will ever happen with him. But I'll tell you what, this kid has so many valuable weapons and ways to beat other teams, there's no doubt in my mind he's going to be a valuable asset at some point."

All of this sounds familiar to Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor, who managed the early Rockies teams (1992-98) and helped an athletic but raw second baseman become a standout.

At one point, the elder Young, now a baserunning instructor with the Astros, suffered an injury to his throwing hand and agreed to spend time on the Minor League fields handling countless ground balls with his glove hand.

"He's no different from his dad. He has to prove more things than a guy who's 6-3, 215, yet he's determined to play in the big leagues," Baylor said. "He wants to learn. His speed is unmatched, really. Sometimes he probably thinks he can outrun the ball.

"You tell him he can't do something, he's going to prove that he can by his work habits. Those are the guys you want, and this organization has been fortunate to have two E.Y.'s here. People told him you couldn't play second base. He made himself an All-Star second baseman."

Young could have taken the veteran signings as a message that he's going to have to wait. He didn't take it as a message at all.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.