Adam Lind came into last season with very high expectations. He had never had an average lower than .310 at any point in the minors, and hit for a rather absurd .367 average during his September audition. Scouts declared him no fluke and raved about his swing; John Sickels even predicted he would challenge for rookie of the year if he managed to get enough at-bats.
Still, at the start of 2006 he was stuck in AAA with the signing of Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs to fill the DH and outfield roles and only got major league playing time when Reed Johnson was injured. Over 300 at-bats, he struggled to lay off the high fastball and was returned to the minors with a .230 average, where he suffered a concussion and took a while to get his swing back. During his second September callup he was much more his normal self and hit .273/.298/.473 with 3 HR and 16 RBI in 16 games.
But for next season, it has again been announced that he is destined for AAA, again. Keith Law has even decided that means he doesn’t have a role or much value to the team and is on the trading block. What gives? Do we not have any faith our prospects at all? Last year wasn’t really that bad of a rookie year. The official reason for delaying Lind’s little league career was so he could work on his defense, but he hasn’t made an error in a year and a half. Offensively, lets compare him to Alex Rios:
Sure there was some worry, but was there any talk of sending Alex Rios down after his second season? Because Lind just had a very similar year: he was within 20 points in both average and OBP and outslugged Alex although a year younger. In Rios’ case, after his disappointing season the Jays showed some patience and he responded with a breakout season (despite a freak infection). So why would the Jays sign a 40 year old and a career 4th outfielder for over six million combined to block Lind when he already could probably come close to their production?
The answer is pure economics. Lind could probably do as well or maybe even better than Matt Stairs next season, but that would use up a year of his service time so we have him locked up for one less season before free agency. Would you give up a year of Lind under control when he’s 30, in his slugging prime, in exchange for a year of him finding his way in the majors next year? Even if he’s decent, if the Jays can get anywhere near the same sort of numbers out of Stairs (who is super cheap and they probably want off the bench anyway) and Johnson (who is the only player close to a leadoff guy that they have), they potentially save a hugely expensive free agent year by letting him destroy AAA for a season.
Rios’ career so far is a good example of why it doesn’t make sense to rush Lind. We put up with a couple of mediocre seasons from Alex and now it’s time to throw big bucks at him to try and give him some security in exchange for one or two of his free agent years so he doesn’t walk to the highest bidder (because he will obviously be in high demand). J.P. can’t really say this, but the reason for slowing him down isn’t because we’re scared of ruining his development, or have lost faith and want to dump him, or even that he couldn’t be an effective major leaguer. It just doesn’t make sense to start the clock on him when there’s no particular need, and if we think he’s going to have a lot of value down the road.
When you see teams like the Marlins and Devil Rays having to shop around super-elite talent like Scott Kazmir and Miguel Cabrera at the very young ages of 23-24 because they broke into the leagues at a ridiculously young age and aren’t going to be around much longer, it makes you wonder why more teams don’t delay their top prospects as long as they can. Did the Devil Rays really get a lot out of having Kazmir walking 100 batters at the precocious age of 21? I’d rather have a McGowan who takes forever to get here and then (hopefully) blows away the league for six years once he does. Just because a player can hack it in the major leagues doesn’t mean it makes sense for the team to bring him up. Unless there’s a desperate need, those option years are worth their weight in gold.