Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jays set to do the Lindy Hop

After a baffling stubbornness in the front office kept him down far longer than could ever be justified, Blue Jays outfielder Adam Lind (pictured, left) is finally up for what seems like the long haul, and did a ton to advance his cause by tripling his season total in hits in his first game back. In that 2-for-3 (1 HR, 1 BB) performance on Sunday, Lind probably showed us as much about his probable major league performance as the entire 19 at-bat stint J.P. Ricciardi gave us earlier in the year. That is to say, neither should be, or should have been, used to judge a player's production.

The real judgement here has to be of a front office that outright refused to consider the prospect of the International League's hitting leader (Lind led the league with a .328 average) coming up to help a poor hitting and power-dead outfield. Instead, the powers that be insisted all was well with acquisition Kevin Mench (.210/.282/.290 as a Blue Jay, including a worse .214/.286/.262 vs LHP for a supposed lefty-masher), and the decidedly mediocre Brad Wilkerson (.244/.319/.361 as a Jay).

Was there any real logic behind keeping Lind down? Some may point to his line of .053/.100/.053, if they're outright insane. Judging a player by 19 at-bats and a slump that Babe Ruth himself could've easily suffered at some point in his career is perhaps this front office's most bizarre decision.

Slightly more relevant were Lind's struggles at the major league level in 2007 (.238/.278/.400) when called up to fill in for an injury-plagued outfield. But a hitch in Lind's swing that went unsolved over the course of 07 affected both that major league production and his minor league numbers, where Lind's performance at Syracuse fell to a career low .299/.353/.471. This year, Lind showed massive improvement in the minors. Apart from his league leading batting average, Lind improved his isolated discipline (OBP - AVG) to a far more respectable .066, addressing a major weakness in his game. All other numbers were fantastic (.328/.394/.534), and far more reminiscent of his 2006 minor league campaign where he hit .330/.394/.556 between New Hampshire and the Chiefs. Coincidentally, that year of excellent minor league production translated into a major league line of .367/.415/.600 in limited time as a September callup.

Cito Gaston now appears to be calling the shots on this Blue Jays roster, and with the arrival of Lind has been categorical about his intention to give him regular playing time.

"We want this kid to play every day, if we can. We want to try to play him most of the time. He's hit everywhere he's been."

Coming from one of the best hitting coaches of the 1980s, it's clear that Gaston sees more in Lind than Ricciardi ever did. For a power-dead lineup, it makes perfect sense to give Lind regular time; even in a struggling 2007 campaign, Lind's stats (11 HR in 89 games) project over a 162-game schedule to 20 homers; who knows what a successful campaign might yield in the longball department?

Thankfully, with an everyday left fielder improving by the day (something he didn't really have room to do while mashing the bejeezus out of AAA), we'll actually be able to find out what this heretofore "AAAA" player can produce at the major league level.

One perhaps feels for the Syracuse Chiefs, whose fantastic 43-33 start has them 3.5 games out of first place in the IL's North division, losing their most productive bat. At least they're getting the services of Mench, who managed a respectable .282/.344/.464 in AAA this year.

He's no Adam Lind, but then again, that's what the whole problem has been.

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