Where Does Eric Young Actually Fit?


With his trademark speed and lightning quick choppy steps, Eric Young Jr. pursued a fly ball off of the bat of Starlin Castro in the 8th inning of last night’s 9-4 win over the Cubs. As the ball fell from the Chicago night sky, one got the feeling that it was playing tricks on the electrifying but sometimes enigmatic outfielder. Sure enough, what should have been an out deflected off of Young’s glove and opened the door for a miniature Cubs rally.

Young running the bases Tuesday night for the Rockies. Image: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

That’s what Young did late in the game. The Rockies were able to absorb that mistake because of a big lead that they established early in the game against Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva. Those rallies included key contributions from Young, as he doubled and scored in the first inning and then hit an inexplicably grandiose home run in the second inning. In those moments one saw the offensive potential that continues to entice the Rockies coaching staff and persuade them to carve out playing time for Young.

The range of plays that we see from Young continue to be a frustration. When he clicks on offense he is a difference maker whose speed puts the other team on edge. When he goes cold on offense or has his gaffes in the field, he looks like the same raw but talented player that the team has been patient with for the last three seasons.

Are Young’s positive contributions enough at this point? He does tout an above average .274/.313/.434 slash line. More importantly, can the Rockies afford to rely on another inconsistent, streaky performer?

When you consider the last question consider Carlos Gonzalez‘s line Tuesday night. To the glee of fantasy baseball owners worldwide, CarGo went 5-for-5 with two home runs. Right now he is on…but remember the stretch of games last month when he went o-for-the-week and seemingly struck out helplessly every time up to bat? As one of the two most important players on the team, CarGo is as streaky as it gets.

What about the rest of the roster? The more Todd Helton ages, the more the consistency that characterized his career wanes. Wilin Rosario and Nolan Arenado continue to show their youth and have their own boom-or-bust moments. And that only covers the offense. The next time Colorado Rockies pitching is described as predictable or steady will be the first time and it might be accompanied by the first ever World Series championship parade in downtown Denver.

The point is this: when the Rockies are right they look like legitimate contenders. Problem is, it takes a lot of unpredictable assets playing well for them to be right. Can they afford to keep relying on Young when so many other pieces are already inconsistent? Or should they distribute some of that playing time to players with steadier tendencies, such as Charlie Blackmon?

Eric Young can be a valuable piece off the Rockies bench. The question the Rockies have to ask themselves is this: how exactly do they want to use him? Do they want him to be a 4th outfielder who receives the lion’s share of spot starts or do they want him to be a late-inning pinch hitter/runner? It might be that his inconsistency, when paired with others on this roster, means he should come off the bench more and start less. It will be fascinating to see how the Rockies use him and Blackmon when Michael Cuddyer returns from the DL later this month. For now fans will continue to see a lot of Young. At least it will keep things exciting, right?