Spring Training: Eric Young Jr.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Colorado Rockies utility man Eric Young Jr. has the speed and the pedigree to rank among Major League Baseball’s stolen base leaders if he gets enough playing time.

This spring, he’ll settle for ranking among the MLB leaders in gloves.

[+] EnlargeEric Young Jr.
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsEric Young Jr. compiled a .377 on-base percentage in 98 games for the Rockies last season.
Young has five game gloves and two “trainers’’ in his locker in preparation for the time he plans to spend at second base, third base and all three outfield spots this season. The Rockies intend to move him around to take maximum advantage of his wheels and his versatility, and Young is on board with the program.

“I just want to try to get 500-600 at-bats -- whatever way they can get me in there,’’ he said.

Young, the son of former Rockies franchise favorite Eric Young Sr., took a big step forward last year, hitting .316 with an .825 OPS in 98 games. In the offseason, new Rockies manager Walt Weiss talked to him about playing more positions in an effort to increase his exposure.

“I just thought that with his game-changing speed, we should try to figure out ways to get him in the game more often,’’ Weiss said. “I think it would be great for his career, too, if he could be recognized as that super-utility type guy who can play the infield and the outfield. That’s a very valuable guy on a roster. And he’s so dynamic offensively. We’re just trying to create options.’’

Young broke into pro ball as a 19-year-old second baseman with Casper (Wyo.) Ghosts in the short-season Pioneer League in 2004. He gradually began playing more outfield in the minors and majors, but hadn't played third base until this spring. He's found it to be a challenge for his reflexes.

“They call it the hot corner for a reason,’’ Young said. “It’s hot over there. You've got big grown men swinging in the box, so if they hit something hard down there, it’s coming real quick.’’

Last year, Young sought out veteran utility man Mark DeRosa for his thoughts on playing multiple positions. Young is a hard worker by nature, so he’s spending a lot of time on the back fields taking ground balls in an effort to speed up the learning curve. In the meantime, he's doing his best to keep things simple.

“Just catch the ball and throw it to the next man,’’ Young said. “That’s going to be my concern whether it’s from second base, third base or the outfield. Catch it and throw it to the next man.’’

Young recorded 87 and 73 stolen bases in back-to-back seasons in Class A ball in 2006 and '07, so Weiss isn't exaggerating when he refers to his “game-changing’’ speed. Young's dad, Eric Sr., stole 465 bases in the majors with Colorado, the Dodgers and five other teams, so Junior is well-grounded in the nuances of his craft.

In Monday's Cactus League game against Arizona, Weiss plugged Young and outfielder Dexter Fowler into the first and second spots in the order, and they combined to score three runs and kick up a lot of dust on the bases in a 9-1 Colorado victory. The Rockies’ pitching is iffy entering the season. But if the speedsters can get on base in front of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, Weiss’ lineup could be fun to watch.

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