Young settling into everyday role at third base

Young settling into everyday role at third base

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Michael Young brought three gloves to Phillies camp, the same three he carried everywhere the last two years.

There's only one difference: He's only had to use one of them this spring.

Young, 36, had spent his entire Major League career with the Rangers before getting dealt to the Phillies this offseason. He became Texas' all-time leader in games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles and triples as an everyday shortstop, then a full-time third baseman, and then finally a utility man in 2011 and '12, bouncing all around the Rangers' infield with no set position.

But this year, Young shouldn't have much need for the other gloves in his locker. He'll be the Phillies' everyday third baseman, so he's spent the first month of Spring Training getting reacclimated with one of his old positions. And so far, he says, so good.

"It's gone exactly the way I thought it would so far, so I feel good," Young said Sunday morning. "Every game I play, my timing gets a little better, both in the field and at the plate."

Having a stable presence at third base will be a relief for the Phillies, who had seven different players make at least one start there last season. But the same will be true for Young after a year that saw him start 71 games as Texas' designated hitter, 40 games at first base, 25 at third, 14 at second and four at shortstop.

"It feels good in the sense that I can work hard at one spot. Last year, I took three gloves out to practice and I got a lot of work in, but I just bounced around," said Young, who's averaged 156 games played per year since 2002. "Which is fine, because our team needed it at the time. But coming here, I know that I get quicker improvements because I'm getting all my work at one spot."

Young has faced plenty of questions about his defense and whether he can hold up for a full season at a challenging position like third base. If those doubts sound familiar, it's because they're more or less the same ones directed at Placido Polanco before he capably fielded third, when healthy, for the Phillies from 2010-12.

Young has at least looked the part early on. Playing against the Yankees on Friday at Steinbrenner Field, he made a sharp backhanded grab to nab a tough chopper down the left-field line and hurled the ball on a line to first base. The runner was called safe, but Young made a difficult play into a close call.

Sure, it's anecdotal evidence, it's not the regular season yet and the advanced metrics consistently rate Young as a below-average defender. But if this part of the year is just about getting used to the hot corner, Young appears as if he'll make a relatively smooth transition.

"I think he'll show us that he can play there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Friday.

Upon reporting to Florida, Young said it was his goal to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as Spring Training began. He spent extra time fielding ground balls and working out over the offseason so that he'd be ready to field game-speed ground balls right away.

"I've been there before. I know what it takes to handle a full load, to play when you go deep into the postseason," said Young, who manned third base for the Rangers' 2010 American League championship club. "It's just a matter of getting reacclimated as quickly as possible."

Young said he strives to keep his defense "totally separate" from his work at the plate, so the stability of playing one position all year won't be the cure after the worst offensive season of Young's career. He posted a .277 average and .682 OPS in 2012, a long way from the .311 average and .819 OPS he put up from 2003-11.

But he tweaked his mechanics toward the end of last season, and that helped him hit .313 with a .838 OPS over his last 31 games. It wasn't a complete overhaul of his high-contact, line-drive swing, he said -- just a few small changes to help him get set and recognize pitches earlier while still putting an aggressive swing on the ball.

Those adjustments didn't result in a particularly hot start to Grapefruit League play, as he's hit just .211 in his first 21 plate appearances, but he said it always takes him 20 or 30 at-bats each spring to get a feel for his swing. He hit a two-run homer Sunday off Orioles starter Chris Tillman, his first of the spring.

"I feel good," he said. "Right now, it's just natural timing issues."

It's also another case of Young knowing exactly what he needs to focus on this year. He doesn't need to assume any additional leadership responsibilities here, like he did in Texas. All he really needs to be is the Phillies' everyday third baseman, and that's just fine with him.

"I'm going to try to be myself, try to be a good teammate and try to do everything I can to try to make the guys around me better," Young said. "I'm sure everyone else is going to do the same for me."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.