Kyle Weiland is representative of the player who best appreciates the skills Pawtucket Red Sox center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin possesses.
Triple-A rookie right-handed starting pitcher Weiland, along with Lin, played for Salem in 2009 and Portland in 2010 and was reunited with his security blanket when Lin was promoted to Pawtucket on May 21.
“I played with Lin the last two years and every pitcher will tell you it’s to their advantage when you have a guy like him playing outfield for you,” said Weiland. “Obviously, you don’t try to change your game for anybody, whether it’s an outstanding infielder or an outstanding outfielder. You always want to go out there and throw your same game. But at the same time, there’s definitely a little bit of extra confidence when you know a guy out there has one of the best reads of the ball I’ve ever seen. He also has one of the best arms I’ve ever seen.
“He’s definitely saved me a ton of runs and taken away hits from guys as well.”
That’s another way of saying Lin (photo by tjperrche) allows pitchers the luxury of getting away with a mistake pitch.
“That’s happened several times since I’ve been playing with him,” said Weiland. “You make mistakes with pitches and, fortunately, you’ve got a guy out there like Lin who can track it down.
“He never takes off a play. He never takes off an out. He’s always going 100 percent so it’s good to know that you have him behind you.”
The accolades Lin received last year are indicative of what managers, coaches, administrative types and the media also think of Lin.
- He was named Boston’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year, which was an honor he also received in 2008 at Greenville.
- He was named the Eastern League’s Best Defensive Outfielder.
- Baseball American rated Lin as being the Best Defensive Outfielder in Boston’s farm system and having the Best Defensive Arm (i.e. he led Eastern League outfielders with a .991 fielding percentage and ranked second with 15 assists).
- He was voted the MVP in the 2008 All-Star Futures game at Yankee Stadium.
While most members of Red Sox Nation didn’t have the slightest inkling of Lin prior to his signing an international free agent contract in June of 2007, this native of Taiwan already had made an impact on the world baseball stage.
Lin began making an impact in 2000 when he belted a grand-slam homer which helped his 12-and-under Bronco League team capture the World Championship.
Flash forward and Lin played for Taiwan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and for Chinese Taipei in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
While Lin didn’t wax eloquent about his international accomplishments, he did indicate through an interpreter that he enjoys his current status as “just one of the guys,” and isn’t mindful of the lack of overwhelming hype that’s enveloped teammate Jose Iglesias.
That the Red Sox signed him for $400,000 is noteworthy considering other organizations reportedly offered him contracts in excess of that amount. But Lin indicated he “preferred” to sign with Boston because of the relationship the organization had established with him (read: Pacific Rim coordinator Jon Deeble).
Lin hit .269 in 34 games with Portland and despite a June stint on the disabled list with a sprained wrist has a hit and/or a walk in his first 27 Triple-A games (during this stretch he’s 33-for-111 which computes to a .283 average) and has a .386 OBP.
Arnie Beyeler, who managed Lin last year at Portland, knows full well what this 22-year-old brings to the proverbial table.
“He’s a plus defender,” said Beyeler. “He has an instinctual knack of being able to be where he needs to be when the ball comes down. You can’t teach that. He knows how to go back and catch balls.
“When he gets to the spot, he catches the ball. He’s got a little flair to him. He likes to snatch balls (see: 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.
“He catches it behind his back,” added Beyeler. “He catches it on the ground. It’s not real conventional sometimes but he catches the ball. And then he has a plus arm. He can turn around and throw you out.”
That being said, Beyeler noted Lin does need to improve on things like hitting the cutoff man and his accuracy.
How much of Lin’s ability to play potential Gold Glove outfield is natural and how much is the product of hard work?
“This has been something that’s been an instinct for me,” he said. “Of course, there are certain aspects you have to work on, but defense always has been natural for me.”
But hitting the ball instead of catching it, at the risk of using a metaphor, is a completely different ballgame.
Entering this season, his career minor league batting average was .261 with 18 homers and 150 RBI. For Pawtucket so far in 2011, he’s rocking a .288/.355/.357 mark.
“The pitching here is more advanced,” said Lin. “It’s closer to the pitching I faced in spring training (when he played with Boston during Grapefruit League games). Pitchers here attack hitters more and throw more fastballs.
“You must remain focused. But the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make would be mental. You have to stick with your approach.”
Even though Lin only had hit 18 homers in 448 career minor league games prior to landing on the D.L., Beyeler felt this wasn’t a major concern.
“His swing isn’t conducive to home run power because he doesn’t have a lot of loft in his swing,” he said. “He puts the ball in play and he plays in the middle of the field. Guys (who play) in the middle of the field don’t have to have much power.
“It’s a good tradeoff with him. He gets on base. He sets the table. He’s a very good defender and a guy you like to have in the field.”
If playing baseball was Lin’s only concern when he migrated from Taiwan, life would have been less complicated. But adjusting to a new culture –- especially a new language (Lin’s English has improved since 2007) –- represented another challenge.
“I’ve had to learn to become more independent,” he said. “I can’t always count on my teammates to help me in certain situations. I’ve had to go out and learn about these new experiences and learn English.
“I’ve been trying to learn by talking with my teammates and coaches. Whatever expectations I had (when he signed with Boston) … I feel improving my communication will help me become a better player.”
So far that appears to be the case.