Just ask veteran pitcher Brandon Duckworth, who’s pitched in the major and minor leagues since 1998.
“There’s a comfort level knowing that, if there’s a ball in the air, he has a really good chance of getting to it – unless you know it’s a sure double or a sure hit,” said Duckworth. “But even then, he’s able to run some balls down. And he has a terrific arm. It’s a matter of making sure he’s accurate with everything.”
Scouts rate center-fielder Lin as having a plus arm. That’s attested to by the fact he has 58 assists in his five-year minor league career. Manager Arnie Beyler is fully aware of Lin’s defensive abilities because he managed this native of Taiwan in Portland in 2010 and last year in Pawtucket after he was promoted from the Sea Dogs on May 21.
“When he gets to the spot, he catches the ball,” said Beyeler. “He’s got a little flair to him. He likes to snatch balls (ala Rickey Henderson). But that’s how he plays. It’s not a showoff thing. That’s how he catches the ball. He’s not a ‘hot dog.’
“But he’s got a knack to get back to the wall and back to the track and into the gaps. When the ball’s there he catches it.”
Without question Lin has compiled an impressive resume that would attest to his defensive abilities.
- He was named Boston’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 at Portland and 2008 at Greenville.
- He was named the Eastern League’s Best Defensive Outfielder in 2010 (he led the league that season with a .991 fielding percentage and ranked second with 15 assists).
- Baseball America named him the Best Defensive Outfielder in Boston’s farm system entering the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.
- Entering this season, Baseball America rated him as having the Best Outfield Arm in Boston’s farm system.
- Lin was voted the MVP in the 2008 All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium.
- He played for Taiwan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and for Chinese Taipei in the 2009 World Series.
- He was added to Boston’s 40-man roster on November 18, 2011 and earlier this season was called up to the Red Sox for one day, appearing in the field without garnering a hit before being shipped back down in exchange for Jason Repko.
It won’t be Lin’s last time in the majors.
“It’s a combination of natural instincts as well as hard work,” Lin said of his defensive prowess through interpreter Mickey Jiang. “When I was young and playing Little League, I was trained to read the ball better off the bat. I can throw out guys on the bases and sometimes at home.”
Jiang, a native of Taiwan who last season was a coach with the Sea Dogs, offered his own opinion on why Lin is so proficient in the outfield.
“The baseball culture in Taiwan is quite different,” he said. “We’re stricter just like they are in Japan. We’re more disciplined.
“That’s why when he grew up playing baseball he was trained well and he got a better idea of how to play this game, especially defensively.”
One of baseball’s oldest clichés is that a center fielder should catch any ball he can reach, which is certainly applicable to Lin.
“I think the biggest thing is he has to cover so much ground from left-center to right-center,” said Duckworth. “He seems to get good jumps on the ball. You know there isn’t anything that’s going to fall. If it hangs in the air, there’s a good chance he’s going to get to it.
“I think that makes it even better for the corner outfielders because they know if they don’t get quite the jump, it seems like he’s going to be there.”
Despite his success in the outfield, Lin is not about to rest on his laurels.
“I never stop learning,” he said. “I try to be a better defensive outfielder. I’m pretty confident about my defensive skills out there. But I try to improve on a daily basis. I want to be better.”
Duckworth appreciates the grind of playing on a daily basis.
“It’s tough going out there each and every day and trying to keep that focus,” he said. “He does a really good job of staying within the game and knowing situations.
“I think for the limited time I’ve seen him (the 2011-12 seasons), he did a great job.”
If there’s one area in which Lin must do a better job it’s at the plate.
Entering this season, his career minor league batting average is .257 with only 20 home runs (Beyeler: “His swing isn’t conducive to home run power because he doesn’t have a lot of loft in his swing.”) and 186 RBI. He hit just .268 last year in 34 games at Portland before his promotion to Pawtucket. Then, with the PawSox, his average tailed off to .235 with two home runs and 25 RBI. Lin does walk at a good clip, but he must improve his contact skills to hack it in the majors.
“At the Double-A level, there are guys that throw hard,” said Lin. “At the Triple-A level, there are more veterans, some who have big league time, and they know how to deal with hitters.
“When I first got here, they didn’t know anything about me. But after the second of third month, they got a better idea of what kind of hitter I am. It was tough for me to get used to hit under those circumstances.
“I know my batting average wasn’t very good (last year),” continued Lin. “But I won’t set a goal where I might hit .280. I have a better idea of how Triple-A pitchers are attacking the zone. I can keep adjusting my approach. The only thing I’m focused on is hitting the ball well and hitting it hard. If I can do that, then eventually I can help the team win.”
Ironically, Lin was hitting .289 in 19 games with Pawtucket before he was placed on the disabled list on June 13 with a sprained wrist.
When he was activated eight days later, his batting average began to dip.
Yet Beyeler remains optimistic about Lin’s ability to hit better pitching.
“He’s getting better at the plate,” said the skipper. “He had a good winter with a team in Taiwan and he took that into the spring. He’s always done a good job with plate recognition (in 1,983 career minor league at-bats, Lin’s drawn 261 walks — and struck out only 317 times).
“But almost to a fault, we need him to get to swing the bat and drive the ball.”
Barring any unforeseen complications, he’ll have abundant opportunities to do so this season.
Categories: Boston Red Sox