Let's take a look at third base today as part of our ongoing positional outlook series, which will take us into spring training next week. Other outlooks: First base (Chris Davis, Justin Smoak) and second base (Ian Kinsler).
Michael Young finished the 2008 season with a Gold Glove at shortstop and a few months later was told the club wanted him to move to third base for the 2009 season. Young needed some time, but agreed to make the switch, allowing Elvis Andrus to slide into the shortstop role (we'll take a look at SS on Thursday).
The Rangers felt Young's skills were suited to handle third base and that it was time to see what Andrus could do. Young talked to several players that were familiar with the position (including then teammate Hank Blalock) and worked hard to adjust to the different angles and responsibilities of the position. He got used to how quickly the ball came to third and what he needed to do to charge balls down the line. He steadily improved during the season, impressing coaches and teammates with how quickly he adjusted to his new job.
At the plate, Young had a .322 average, good enough for fifth in the American League. That's six of the last seven seasons that Young had hit .306 or better. He had 22 home runs -- 10 more than in 2008 despite playing 20 fewer games in 2009 -- and 68 RBIs. He had a strained hamstring which caused him to miss much of September, a rarity in his career.
Still, Young was again productive at the plate and the team's unquestioned leader. He helped Andrus make the transition to the big leagues and showed the rest of the team his impressive work ethic and dedication to his craft. The difference for Young in 2010 is that he won't be showing up at spring training trying to get used to a new position. He's played third base for a year and says he feels comfortable. So it should be a less stressful spring for the veteran.
Khalil Greene (we'll get to him later as well) should give Young some breathers at times, if necessary. But last season was the first time Young hadn't played in at least 156 games since he was called up for good in 2001. So he's certainly durable.
There are those out there (I've heard from you) that question whether Young is a good defender at third. I know he doesn't have the greatest UZR numbers and other stats. But he had just nine errors last season, the fewest by any regular third baseman in the AL, in his first year. And yes, Andrus' range certainly helps Young and Kinsler. But in just watching the game, Young did a nice job of charging balls and getting outs and making the key plays when needed. He had trouble on certain balls down the line, but I think part of that was figuring out where to play properly at a new position. I expect he'll be even better in that category in 2010.
Bottom line: Third base is in good hands now. And two years ago, it was a position of flux. That's what a stabilizing force like Young does for a team.