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Young plans strong return from injury in 2013

DENVER -- The Rockies went from having questions about Eric Young Jr. to having to make decisions about him.

Out of Minor League options coming in the Spring Training, Young played his way onto the Major League roster, provided a lift as a pinch-hitter early in the season and -- during a time the Rockies were beset by outfield injuries -- produced big as a starter.

But like too many Rockies, Young's year ended because of an injury, an oblique strain that he suffered on Aug. 19. Still, a season that he finished with a .316 batting average, four home runs and 15 RBIs in 98 games, including 28 starts, is an indication that he is a candidate for increased playing time in 2013.

Between July 31 and Aug. 19, when he received the biggest run of regular playing time in his career, Young started 16 of 19 games and hit .420 with a .459 on-base percentage, with three home runs, five doubles and three stolen bases in four attempts.

"At the time I was disappointed [because of the injury], but everything happens for a reason," Young said. "Coming into camp not sure if I was going to make the team, doing what I did in the pinch-hit role and actually getting a chance to start and doing what I did, I'm proud of the season I had.

"It's something to build on next year. I wanted to come in this year and show that I should get a chance to play. I feel I've done that for the most part, so there are a lot of positives going into next year."

Young said Thursday he has checked out healthy and soon will begin training in Phoenix for what he hopes is another big season. It's already guaranteed to be a big year -- he's getting married in January. On the field, he will again push for a prominent role.

Candidates are numerous. Michael Cuddyer suffered a season-ending oblique injury, himself, but also should be healthy for next season. Tyler Colvin made the most of the playing time the injuries brought him, to the tune of .290 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs in 136 games. Charlie Blackmon shrugged off a year full of foot injuries to compile a .283 batting average in 42 games.

Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and center fielder Dexter Fowler are fixtures. Cuddyer, who hit .260 with 16 home runs and 58 RBIs before his injury, and Colvin each can play right field and first base, but the Rockies could have a crowd at first as well. Add Young and the emerging Blackmon to this picture, and it looks crowded.

Young isn't afraid to forge a place for himself. He did well as a pinch-hitter, batting .245 with a .333 on-base percentage, plus 12 runs scored -- tops among National League pinch-hitters. But his work as a starter was even better.

"You want the at-bats," Young said. "At the end of the season you want to say you got 500 at-bats. However I get them, wherever I need to get them, that's fine. As long as I'm getting the at-bats, whether it's a day here or a day there, as long as at the end of the season I got that total number of at-bats, that's all you can really ask for."

The pitching-challenged Rockies could use outfielders as trading pieces. Cuddyer could be attractive to another club, but is in the second year of a three-year, $31.5 million contract. He's also considered a much-needed veteran presence.

Blackmon, 26, could bring interest since he can be sent to the Minors without being exposed to other clubs via waivers. Or, other clubs could inquire about Young, 27, who has unquestioned speed as a base runner and has gone from an awkward former second baseman to a credible outfield defender.

"There are a lot of things to be proud of this season," he said. "I got my name out there, not only within this organization but with a lot of organizations. I'm feeling good going into next year. I'm going to get some playing time. I put myself in a good situation. All I can do now is focus on getting ready for 2013.

"I love it here. This is where it started. I've got a family here. You've got to remember it's a business and you're a commodity. Any way you can help a team by adding or removing players, that's what they're going to do."

Young also will be able to prepare for next season with not as much drama. He began last winter playing in Venezuela but was released after a dispute with his club over a security issue, then he went into the camp with the pressure of proving himself without much of a Major League track record. Now that his rib cage has healed, he can enjoy the offseason and simply prepare.

"I'm basically staying in shape," he said. "I've got a few [teammates'] weddings around here, including my own, so I'm taking care of that. I'll be in Arizona for the bigger part of the offseason, in the sunshine doing stuff outside."

Eric Young