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A Young snake with swagger, skills to match

SAN DIEGO -- Padres manager Bud Black thought grand slam, as did his hitter, Mike Cameron. The trajectory of the ball, the sweet swing Cameron put on it and the force of it rocketing toward deep center field in Petco Park made it seem destined for beyond the fence. Just as it was heading out, the swift young center fielder for the Diamondbacks timed his steps just right, jumping back and straight up for the ball, crashing into the fence, then bouncing off it. Chris Young had just taken a grand slam away from Cameron and sapped the energy out of the ballpark.

"That was a hell of a play right there," says Cameron, a three-time Gold Glove winner. "The thief got robbed."

Young is baseball's new marauder, a potential future star with not just the glove but also with the bat. As Young's offense has improved, so have the D-backs, who recently went 10-1 and head into a weekend series against the second-place Dodgers with a one-game lead in the National League West. Young hit .326 with four home runs, six RBIs and five stolen bases in the 11-game stretch.

"He's the spark plug," second baseman Orlando Hudson says. "He's leading off for us, and he's doing a great job of it. As he goes, we go."

For most of the season, it was Hudson, who was a first-time All-Star, and left fielder Eric Byrnes who shouldered the weight offensively. Young's defense was always there, but his first half included a woeful June in which he hit .196. Teammates say Young's confidence and stability throughout his slump were a credit to his character. Even though his average is just .243, he's leading all major league rookies with 19 home runs.

"He walks a very fine line of arrogance, which I absolutely love," Byrnes says. "He's confident, cocky. Call him what you will, he can play. And he's also a fun person to be around.

"This was the most confident .200 hitter I've ever seen in my life; he still kind of walked around with the same kind of aura and presence around him. That was the impressive thing."

He's as good as Vernon Wells, Ichiro, Torii Hunter, Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron. He's that good right now.

Orlando Hudson on teammate Chris Young

Young, a native of Houston, says being a professional baseball player wasn't his dream. Going to medical school, becoming a doctor, was what he aspired to. Young was always one of the skinniest kids in his class and never was one of the best players on his team. Young didn't even start until his senior year of high school.

But he was spotted by White Sox scouts in town to watch his powerhouse Bellaire team. They drafted him in the 16th round in 2001 and gave him a $130,000 bonus. After his first season in pro ball, Young attended Houston Baptist, a college that offered a quarter system instead of semesters. For three straight offseasons, he took classes working toward a degree.

"In rookie ball, you're so far away from the big leagues you just never know what can happen," Young says. "You know the chances are not in your favor, especially being a low-round guy."

He slowly made a name for himself, climbing up the prospect charts until he was traded in December 2005, along with Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino, to Arizona for Javier Vazquez. He arrived in the desert with a broken hand after banging it into a wooden panel while working out that winter, but he came back and earned a call-up by the end of the season. Now, he's a mainstay at the top of the lineup and in the middle of Arizona's outfield, making highlight plays.

"Right now, he's up there with the best of 'em defensively," Hudson proclaims loud enough for the entire clubhouse to hear. "He's as good as Vernon Wells, Ichiro, Torii Hunter, Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron. He's that good right now."

Hudson remembers a game early in the year, specifically a play in Washington's spacious RFK outfield. At one point, Hudson warned catcher Brian Schneider not to hit any balls near Young. The next inning, Hudson says, Schneider led off and smoked a ball to the left-center gap.

"Chris runs it down, and Schneider's like, 'What in the hell?'" Hudson says. "And I said, I told you last inning what not to do. Young did it. He ran it down and laid it out. It was unbelievable. Uh-oh! It was crushed in the gap. I thought it was an easy triple, in Washington, you know? No. He went and got it."

Young isn't nearly as brash as Hudson, one of the game's best trash-talkers. But Hudson has had to remind the rookie about clubhouse code.

"He says I talk too much for a young guy; young guys are supposed to sit in their locker and hush," Young says, imitating Hudson's South Carolina drawl. "I like to joke around with the guys; we have fun."

On the field, Young usually appears serious, but there have been signs that he's feeling more comfortable with himself and his personality. Young's general manager, Josh Byrnes, cites a game at Wrigley Field -- which coincided with the team's recent winning streak -- when he saw the rookie loosening up.

After Young finished playing toss before the start of an inning, he threw the ball into the stands. The fans threw it back. Young took a quick jog, retrieved the ball and pump-faked the fans before throwing it into the Arizona bullpen.

"It's just great to see him enjoy himself on the field more," Byrnes says.

Eric Byrnes, the team's best hitter this season and de facto energy source, thinks Young has 30/30 potential. The organization is unsure where he eventually will hit in the lineup, but Young has done well thus far leading off. All agree his defense is near the top and will only get better.

Now, Young just has to make sure people get his name right.

Arizona general partner Jeff Moorad recently was perusing the box scores and noticed a "C B Young," at the top. Moorad was confused: Since when did they have a Chris B. Young? It appears the stats services started using Young's middle initial, to separate him from Padres starting pitcher Chris Young, who has been in the league longer and is more established. Moorad asked his public relations department to clear up the mistake.

"Not that I would ordinarily get that involved with guys' names," Moorad says, "but I feel that this is a player who deserves to have his own identity. I think he should have it as Chris Young. With all due respect to the San Diego version, we like the Arizona version a lot."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.