PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners learned on Sunday afternoon why opponents must must keep an eye on the Rockies' Eric Young Jr.
Young turned a harmless looking hit to right field into a double to open the game. Later in the inning, Young scored easily from third on Tim Wheeler's medium-depth fly to right.
Opponents know to always watch Young, who led the Rockies with 26 steals despite playing in just 77 games last season. The bigger question, though, is what the Rockies see when they are evaluating the switch-hitting Young.
Left-handed hitters Charlie Blackmon and Tyler Colvin and right-handed hitting non-roster player Alex Brown are in competition for what appears to be two backup outfield spots. Young came up at second base and has played it briefly in camp. He also saw time in left field last season and went from out of place to adequate by season's end.
Young, who hit .363 in 58 Triple-A games last season and has a .297 average in the Minors, has played well this spring in center field, a position he said he has come to enjoy. He has been competitive offensively.
The first-inning hit against the Mariners did not count because the game was called because of rain that arrived in the top of the fifth, but it would have made him 7-for-24 (.292), and he is 5-for-5 on stolen-base attempts. With each good game, Young makes the Rockies' decision less about whether the club can live with his shortcomings and more about how he fits on the roster.
Young, 26, is out of Minor League options, which means the Rockies can't send him to the Minors without exposing him to other clubs on waivers.
"I want to make it hard on them," Young said of the Rockies' decision-makers. "I still feel I can be an everyday player, so I want to make sure I leave a lasting impression in their heads, that, 'This kid needs to be on the field as much as possible.'"
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Young looks comfortable in left and center, taking improved routes to balls at each position, and he has responded to the challenge of remaining on the big league roster.
"I'm proud of him," said Tracy, who used Young for nine innings at second base in a "B" game earlier this spring and hasn't closed the door on Young at the position -- the one his father played with distinction for the Rockies in the 1990s. "We had a sit-down at the beginning of the spring, and I basically told him my plan. That has all worked itself out."
Without the defensive improvement, Young would have been at risk of being the type of player whose talents are best used during a September callup with an expanded roster, when he could run the bases at key times. Now, Young is making his case for making an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career and helping for six months.
"I've shown throughout my career in the Minors that, given a good number of at-bats, the numbers are there," Young said. "But I try not to worry about the roster. I let the front-office guys try to figure that [out]. It would be nervewracking, trying to figure that out.
"I love this organization. This is where I grew up. I want to capitalize on what God blessed me with, and that's using my legs while I still can."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.Owen Perkins contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.