SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — When last season was over, Michael Young had 200 hits again and had been to another All-Star game.
Another routine year for the Texas Rangers shortstop, the kind of performance his team has come to expect.
"There's no doubt he has great ability," Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. "Really to me, he doesn't get enough credit. This kid's a superstar in my mind."
But that kind of status and repeated standout seasons weren't really what the Rangers expected when Young was still a minor leaguer and the secondary player they got with pitcher Darwin Cubillan in a 2000 trade that sent right-hander Esteban Loaiza to Toronto.
"He's a better player than we thought," said Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, the Rangers GM at the time. "There were a lot of the intangibles that we didn't know about."
Since Alex Rodriguez was traded four years ago, Young has become a clubhouse leader and the face of the Texas franchise. Young is signed through 2013 after getting an $80 million contract extension last spring.
Young has been to four All-Star games since switching from second base after A-Rod's departure. Young also has five consecutive 200-hit seasons, a streak surpassed only by the seven in a row by Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. He led the AL with a .331 average in 2005 and has a .302 career average.
Texas had two minor league infielders to choose from in that 2000 deal, and took Young because he could play both middle infield spots. The other was Brent Abernathy, who was back in the minors the past two years after 232 games for three major league teams from 2001-05.
Young started 102 games as a rookie second baseman after being called up in May 2001. But Melvin was fired after that season, and then-manager Jerry Narron had to fight to keep Young on the roster and in the lineup because some front-office personnel weren't so sure about the young infielder.
"Just seeing him in '01, how he went about his business, and how hard he worked and the talent he has," Narron said, explaining what drew him to Young. "Even if he doesn't hit, you can win with what else he's going to bring to the ballpark every day."
Narron, fired after the 2002 season, returned to the Rangers this spring as a consultant. Lucky for them that Narron got his way then, though he downplays his role in Young's development.
"It's safe to say I wouldn't be in this locker room if it wasn't for Jerry," Young said. "I wouldn't be in this uniform right now."
Instead, Young is the longest-tenured player on the Rangers' 25-man roster, and has played at least 156 games in each of the past seven seasons. The only other player signed as long is second baseman Ian Kinsler, who last month got a $22 million, five-year contract that includes a $10 million team option for 2013.
Young was glad to get his contract settled last spring, though it hasn't changed the way he plays — or made things easier.
"Every player loves to be able to be in position where they can just focus on the game," Young said. "It's harder. Now you have a huge responsibility."
One that Young, who could have been eligible for free agency after this season, accepts without reservation.
"A lot of guys get a big deal and they kind of just sit back," Frank Catalanotto said. "But Mike's going to work even harder just to kind of prove that he deserves that contract."
Catalanotto returned to Texas last year after four seasons with the Blue Jays. While Young became one of the AL's best players during that span, Catalanotto said "Mike the person" hasn't changed since they were first teammates in 2001 and 2002.
"The only thing that has changed is really his numbers and his status," Catalanotto said. "His work ethic is second to none, and always has been. His ego hasn't gotten big."
Young's extension last spring was the second-largest contract in Rangers history, behind the $252 million, 10-year deal Rodriguez got in December 2000.
After signing the deal, Young started last season in a miserable slump. He was hitting only .192 through 28 games after going through an 0-for-13 series against the New York Yankees the first week of May.
But Young was up to .257 by the end of May, and was hitting .291 after June when he was selected for another All-Star game. His average kept climbing and finished at .315, the second-best in his career.
"It was the most gratifying as a coach watching him do what he did early and the outcome. It was awesome," said Jaramillo, who has also tutored Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez.
"It was tough, but sometimes you get off to a slow start," Young said. "Granted, I'd like to get off to a quick start and make it easier on myself, but looking back, that was probably the season I was most proud of mentally."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.