Not a Rookie Redux: Adam Lind
Adam Lind emerged as an excellent hitter in 2009 after scuffling in '07 and '08. He hasn't been terrific so far this year, hitting .252/.339/.441, though his overall production is still above average at +113 OPS. This isn't as good as last year's stunning .305/.370/.552, +144 OPS mark. What was he like as a prospect, and can he get back to where he was last year?
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.
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.
His 2009 projections were as follows:
Shandler .284/.328/.468, .796 OPS mentions possible breakthrough in 2010.
PECOTA .270/.324/.455 .779 OPS
James .300/.349/.494 .843 OPS
ZIPS .276/.323/.443 .766 OPS
CHONE .275/.328/.447 .755 OPS
As you know, he exceeded all projections with his .922 OPS last year, but is off to a slower start in '10. His strikeout rate is way up this year, 27.9% compared to last year's 18.7% mark. Indeed, his strikeout rate right now is the highest it has ever been, even when he was struggling. His BABIP is .303, below his career mark of .314 but not massively so given the sample sizes involved. Perhaps he is trying too hard to hit for power and justify his new contract. Back in '07, Dick Scott suggested that Lind was having to deal with failure for the first time and needed to adjust. Perhaps he is now having to deal with success. My guess is that his current performance is partly bad luck and partly an adjustment period, that he'll come around and end up with good numbers overall, but that '09 may have been his career peak.
Looking at comparable players:
SIM SCORES: Wally Joyner, Wally Post, Adrian Gonzalez, Brad Fullmer, Geoff Jenkins, Frank Howard, Magglio Ordonez, Frank Thomas, Richard Hidalgo, and Greg Walker.
PECOTA COMPS: Vic Wertz, Bobby Higginson, Billy Williams, Harold Baines, Xavier Nady, Willie Horton, Scott Madison (?), Chris Hoiles, and Matt Murton. Wally Post is 12th and Wally Joyner is 14th.
There is one Hall of Famer (Williams), one future Hall of Famer (Thomas), and some borderline candidates such as Baines. There are several really good players, but also some busts and burnouts. I don't expect Lind to reach such an extreme outcome on either end; he won't be Frank Thomas, but he won't be Scott Madison either, and should be somewhere in the middle in the end, as a solid, productive player with at least one and possibly more outstanding seasons in his record.