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Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Surprise positional outlook: DH/Utility

By Richard Durrett

We're nearly halfway done with our Surprise positional outlooks (which means we're getting even closer to pitchers and catchers reporting in Arizona for the start of spring training).

Michael Young
Michael Young learned to play first base last spring and started at five positions in 2011.
Today's positions: Designated hitter and utility

It was a remarkable 2011 for veteran Michael Young, who is both a DH and a super-utility infielder. He was one of the biggest stories of the offseason after his name popped up in trade talks and, indicating there were trust issues with the front office, wanted to be traded.

Can you imagine if the Rangers actually had traded Young? The 35-year-old veteran did what he always does when a trade didn't happen: He put his team first. He didn't complain anymore about it to the media. He told his teammates when he arrived in Surprise that he was there to work and help them get back to the World Series. And he let his play speak for him after that.

Young had to learn a new position -- first base. He was no longer the club's starting third baseman with the signing of Adrian Beltre to a five-year deal (with an option for a sixth) prior to the 2011 season. Young was asked to be the club's primary DH and also to fill in when injury or rest was needed with one of the infielders. His versatility and consistency at the plate certainly helped that transition.

Young simply had one of the best seasons of his career. He hit a career-best .338, the third-highest single-season figure in club history. He recorded his sixth career 200-hit season and put up a career-high 106 RBIs. He did it while starting at five different positions.

RANGERS POSITION OUTLOOK
Jan. 23: Catcher
Jan. 24: First base
Jan. 25: Second base
Jan. 26: Third base
Jan. 27: Shortstop
Jan. 30: Left field
Jan. 31: Center field
Feb. 1: Right field
Feb. 2: DH/Utility
Feb. 3: Bench
Feb. 6: No. 1 starter
Feb. 7: No. 2 starter
Feb. 8: No. 3 starter
Feb. 9: No. 4 starter
Feb. 10: No. 5 starter
Feb. 13: Middle/long relief
Feb. 14: Late-inning relief
Feb. 15: Coaches
Feb. 16: Manager
Feb. 17: Front office
For a player who was expected to get most of his at-bats at DH, Young actually played the field more than DH in 2011. He made 39 starts at third base, filling in while Beltre was on the disabled list, and 36 starts at first. He also started 13 games at second and even one at short. Young is the only player in MLB history to play 35 or more games at three different positions in a season in which he had 200 or more hits (Elias Sports Bureau). He was second in the majors in multi-hit games (61) and had a club-record 25 games of three or more hits (tied with Adrian Gonzalez for most in the big leagues).

Young provided manager Ron Washington with plenty of flexibility, making sure he could keep his bat in the lineup. Once again, Young played the season without major injury. In fact, he's had only one full season in which he didn't play at least 155 games (played 135 games in 2009 thanks to missing most of September with a strained left hamstring). He's reliable and consistent and he batted fifth at the beginning of the season and then cleanup once Beltre went on the DL.

Young's leadership and work ethic was once again on display in 2011 and he'll be focused (and will help his team stay focused) on getting back to the World Series for a third straight season.

Part of Young's role is utility. But the club is also looking for a utility infielder. They'll have candidates at spring training (and more could show up) as they try to find someone who can play shortstop and help back everyone up. One of those is Luis Hernandez, a 27-year-old who is playing in the Carribean World Series this week.

But having Young is a big boost for Washington, who can slide him in anywhere in the infield and feel good about it.

For a look back at Young's season, click here for a column written just before the playoffs.