Welcome to Pirates Flashback, a weekly look back at some of the best players of the worst teams in Pirates’ history.
Today’s player is Kevin Young, who played first base for the Pirates from 1992-1995, and then again from 1997-2003.
BEFORE THE BUCS
Young was an All-American with the Kansas City Kansas Community College team, leading the league with a .477 batting average. He went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi before entering the 1990 draft.
Young was drafted by the Pirates in the seventh round of the draft and quickly rose through the farm system. He made his MLB debut July 12, 1992.
TIME WITH THE PIRATES
Young hit .250/.324/.438 with 144 home runs over 11 years with the Pirates. He was worth 6.3 bWAR/8.3 fWAR in his Pirates career.
Young struggled early in his career but found consistency at the plate in his second tenure with Pittsburgh. He hit 71 home runs in 412 games from 1997-1999, complimented with a good glove at first. He was worth 9.8 bWAR/10 fWAR in that three year stretch.
Part of the team’s promise to the city when PNC Park was being built was they would spend more money on the team. Young was a beneficiary of that promise, signing the largest contract in team history in March of 1999: four years, $24 million.
Once that contract kicked in, things went south for Young. He played below replacement level in three of those four seasons, both offensively and defensively. He eventually lost the starting job to Randall Simon in his final season with the team.
In 1999, Young became just the third first baseman in MLB history to hit more than 25 home runs, 40 doubles, steal 20 bases, score 100 runs and drive in 100 runs. He slashed .298/.387/.522 that season and was worth 5.6 bWAR/5.3 fWAR.
Young’s first exit came after the 1995 season, when he was released after hitting .232 with only six home runs. He signed with the Royals and played the 1996 campaign with them. He was later released for a second time in 12 months and came back to Pittsburgh.
His second release from the Pirates came on June 28, 2003. He was hitting just .202 with two home runs. That marked the end of his major league career. Young was the last remaining player from the 1992 team, and it would be another decade before another Pirate was part of a winning team.
Today, Young is with the Pirates as a special assistant to the front office. He’s most notably worked with players like Pedro Alvarez, John Jaso and Josh Bell to teach them first base.
DID HE DESERVE BETTER?
Four years, $24 millions doesn’t sound like a lot by today’s standards, but it was still the largest contract in franchise history at the time. It is also one of the worst contracts the Pirates’ front office ever gave, but they got a bargain before that at least.
He had a three year stretch where he was on the cusp of being one of the better first basemen in baseball. He just hit a wall once he hit 30. Moving to a park with such a cavernous left field did not help him either.
Could he have gone to a team like the Yankees to play for a competitor or more money? Perhaps. But he’s still involved with the game now, so it could have been much worse.