Baltimore Orioles' Eric Young Jr. arrives to Spring Training camp in Sarasota and talks about his role as player and mentor if needed.
Veteran outfielder Eric Young Jr. unpacked his Los Angeles Angels equipment bag on Sunday morning and explained to a small group of reporters why a 33-year-old guy signed a minor league contract to play for one of the youngest teams in the majors.
There’s not much chance that he’ll be around when the budding Orioles rebuilding project comes to fruition, but he said that he has something to offer that might help them get there.
“I love helping the younger players,’’ Young said. “I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve been playing as long as I have. To come here and still get an opportunity to play, as well as being able to share my knowledge with the younger players, it’s two for one.”
This is his sixth team in a career that started with the Colorado Rockies in 2009. He has spent that career largely in a reserve outfield/utility role, appearing in more than 100 games just once, but he’s a speedy base runner who led the National League in stolen bases in 2013.
"I came up as a second baseman,’’ he said. “I've played all three outfield spots. I've played emergency shortstop, emergency second base. At this point, there's really not much on the baseball field that I'm scared to do. So, whatever they ask me to do, to create opportunity, create competition, I'm all for it."
Clearly, there’s opportunity here, but the late addition of some veteran players is not an indication that the new front office is leaning toward a more experienced roster during the first full season of the rebuild. The veterans simply provide flexibility and organizational depth while manager Brandon Hyde, his coaching staff and the expanded analytics crew evaluate a spring roster packed with dozens of unproven players.
Young obviously senses that, so he was quick to point out that he brings added value with both his versatility and his willingness to help mentor some of the players he will be competing against this spring.
“It’s a passion of mine, coming in to work with the younger players,’’ he said. “I’m going to do that naturally, even if they didn’t ask me to do that. I’m going to do that naturally because I love this game of baseball, and I definitely want to see everybody reach their full potential when the opportunity [comes] because it’s not easy being a professional and it’s definitely not easy as long as I have.”
Hyde isn’t ready to start mapping out the Opening Day roster. Only a handful of position players are firmly projected to break with the major league team, so it’s too early to speculate about Young’s chances of playing regularly this season, but he’s not just some random low-cost free agent acquisition.
He’s here because the Orioles need some veteran players in camp to show the young guys how it’s done and he’s here because he fit a character profile that Hyde says is hugely important to the program he’s putting in place in his first year as manager.
“Character is huge for me,’’ he said. “Having a high-character clubhouse … having high-character players, you want to have an awesome atmosphere, and those kind of character guys just add to it. Especially if it’s an older veteran player that has had good experiences, those are definitely positive factors in the shaping and building of your roster.”
Hyde also puts a high value on players who can run and create an aggressive posture on the bases.
Even though Young played sparingly the past two years with the Angels, he was able to maintain an 80 percent career success rate stealing bases. He said he works hard to keep his legs in shape at this point in his career, but not so hard that he puts his playing time at risk.
"I’m just smarter now,” he said. “Not necessarily just trying to blow my legs out. I want to make sure that I keep them healthy and keep them fresh and definitely strong to last and be healthy for the entire season. I think the best ability on the baseball field is availability. If you're able to play, all your talents can show but if you're hurt and not really taking care of your body, you're not going to be able to showcase whatever your greatest tool is."