Although I had a feeling the Mets would try to save some money to spread around later in the draft by signing a safe college junior, the Mets instead drafted Out-of-Door Academy’s Desmond Lindsay, a player whose commitment to the University of North Carolina initially scared me away. In Lindsay, the Mets found a player with pick number 53 who offers both some upside and some safety, a guy who has the chance to both be an impact everyday player and a role player off the bench should all else fail. I really like the pick when you consider the handicap the Mets were dealing with by not having a first-round pick.
The Sarasota native has one of the quickest bats in the draft, and it’s the first thing you notice about him. Last June at the Perfect Game 17U WWBA World Series, he put on a show, taking home MVP honors and making himself known to scouts across the country with some outstanding batting sessions. His wrists are very, very quick, fast enough that he can turn on an inside fastball to drive it down the left field line. They’re also quick enough that he can slash an outside fastball down the right field line by waiting on the pitch a split second later. Right now, it’s a matter of Lindsay learning when to use one approach or the other. That will come with improved pitch recognition and time.
The swing itself is overly simplistic. It is rotational, if minimalist in structure, with a quick foot plant preceeding a compact swing marked by those quick wrists and some even quicker hips that will often open up too soon. But when the hips and wrists guide the bat in concert, the ball absolutely jumps off his bat. He doesn’t stride at all, but he still transfers his weight from back foot forward, which is the whole reason for the stride to begin with. The swing path is very, very short, and very, very flat, which should portend very low strikeout rates but will rob Lindsay of power.
The Mets here face a dilemma. If they want Lindsay to develop power, they could change his hand position. He starts with his hands high as it is, but then he drops them before beginning the swing path; by keeping them higher right off the bat, they will lengthen the path but introduce an uppercut to the swing which will produce more loft. This will lead to more strikeouts but also more power. Or they could leave it short and watch him spray line drives all over the field. Personally, with his bat speed, I say adjust the swing.
Defensively, the current forecast is rosy. Right now, Lindsay has been chiefly playing third base and first base. I don’t know why. He’s a plus runner by all reports, running a 6.56 60-yard dash. If he gains any more bulk--he’s currently 6 feet tall and 200 pounds--that might change, but he should still be an above average runner. If he develops decent instincts in the outfield, he has an excellent chance of sticking in center. Right now it’s just too early to determine how good he’ll be out there otherwise. If center doesn’t work out he’ll be relegated to left due to below average arm strength.
Of course, if the arm strength is that bad, I’d be tempted to see if he can handle second. He does not have bad infield instincts, and the only reason scouts have suggested a move to center is due to his arm strength and speed, The consensus is that he’s not awful in the infield, and it might be worth giving him a try there at some point. In fact, any positional versatility would work to his benefit. That said, most scouts seem to agree that center should be his target position, and the early indications are that the Mets agree with that assessment. Expect to see him in center this summer.
The biggest question I have concerns his legs. He missed a substantial amount of time this spring due to a hamstring problem which has bordered upon becoming a chronic issue. Hamstrings are tricky muscles, and there’s no guarantee the issue has fully resolved itself at this time. If not the Mets could face themselves with a player whose speed is big part of his game but whose balky hammy robs him of that speed. Keep those frustrating years with Jose Reyes in mind, even if he did eventually work through those issues. The Mets don't seem worried in this regard, but it's a concern.
The next question is signability. A UNC commitment can be difficult to buy out--it’s become a solid baseball program, and the education is worth something. However, every indication from Tommy Tanous tonight has been that the organization expects a signing due to their private conversations with Lindsay, and I’m inclined to believe them. I can’t believe that the team would have been so cavalier with their second-round pick in a year in which they have no first. This was still their best chance to land a player with any hopes of having an impact of any kind.
And that’s what I think I like about Lindsay the most. If Lindsay doesn’t change a thing about his swing and makes moderate strides and manages to play a solid center field, the Mets have found themselves a player with roughly the same skillset as Jay Payton: a contact hitter with limited power and patience but the ability to man center for extended periods of time. That is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Payton was a useful player for nearly a decade, if never a star. And if he does adjust his swing and develops power, and if he does keep his speed and stick in center, then the Mets are looking at an All-Star talent in center, however long those things may require. And a player like that would be a very nice thing to discover in the draft’s second round.