Not a Rookie: Adam Lind
The Blue Jays drafted University of South Alabama outfielder Adam Lind in the fourth round in 2004. He was considered a very promising hitter, but lack of speed and strong defensive skills kept him out of the earliest rounds. He went to the New York-Penn League and hit great, .312/.371/.477, a +23 percent OPS, in his pro debut. I gave him a Grade C+, impressed with the hitting but wondering how he'd fit at higher levels.
Lind went to the Florida State League in 2005 and continued raking, hitting .313/.375/.487, +20 percent OPS, with "just" 12 homers but knocking 42 doubles. The scouting reports were the same: he could hit, but fielding? That was an issue. I moved him up to Grade B- and waited for the Double-A transition.
Lind's 2006 was excellent. He hit .310/.357/.543 in 91 games in the Eastern League, then a superb .394/.496/.596 in 34 games in Triple-A. His performance after moving up to Syracuse was remarkable: he drew 23 walks against just 18 strikeouts in 109 at-bats, a much better BB/K/AB ratio than he'd shown in Double-A. Granted the sample was smaller, but he was really locked in the zone. He hit .367/.415/.600 in 18 games for the Blue Jays, with a 5/12/60 BB/K/AB ratio, not nearly as good of course though it didn't seem to hurt his production. Defense was still a question but the bat looked so good that I didn't think it mattered much, that they would find some way to get this bat into the lineup. I gave him a Grade A- in the book, and projected he would hit .300/.365/.459 in the majors in 2007.
Well that's not what happened. Lind got off to a good start, hitting .288/.367/.519 in April. But he pitched into a slump in May and June, hitting .171 in May and .236 in June, with strong deterioration in his plate discipline. He went back to the minors in July, and even his performance for Syracuse was disappointing at .299/.353/.471. . .which is hardly bad but not what he was doing in 2006. He hit .273/.298/.473 for the Blue Jays in September, looking better but still not as locked in as he was in '06.
So what happened here? If you listened to my XM radio show last week, I asked Dick Scott, Blue Jays Director of Player Development, about Lind. He said that Lind basically had to deal with failure for the first time last year, and that he got down on himself mentally, started pressing, and lost command of the strike zone. He estimates that Lind will likely begin 2008 in Triple-A and that they are working with him on mental adjustments, basically trying to get him back to working the count more effectively. They still think he has the bat speed and aptitude to be an excellent major league hitter; he just needs to get his mental approach back to where it was before. That all sounds very nice, and the part of me that bought into Lind in '07 really wants that to be true.
From a sabermetric standpoint, here are some projections for '08:
Weighted Mean PECOTA: .266/.322/.441
James is the outlier here, with a .849 OPS compared to .746, .763, .774, and .783.
We can't dismiss what he did in 2006 any more than we can dismiss what happened in 2007. I think he'll have a fine year in Triple-A this year, hit about .315/.380/.500 or so, but that there won't be a lot of playing time in the majors available to him. He then enters 2009 at age 25 with a strong track record of hitting in the minors, but still no place to play.
I personally still think that Lind is capable of doing what I expected him to do, but it might not happen until 2009 or 2010. He needs playing time. But will he get it? In Toronto or somewhere else? His best bet for '08 is for someone in Toronto to get hurt, but any chance he gets he needs to take advantage of quickly or he risks ending up on the trade block. For all of last year's disappointment, he's still a career .317/.378/.506 hitter in the minors, including .336/.408/.519 in Triple-A. For now at least, I stick with my supposition that Lind can hit, he just needs time to adjust.