Previously unsung Lin hearing praise
Prospect goes 2-for-2 with homer to become Futures MVP
NEW YORK -- Unlike Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury -- highly touted Red Sox prospects who reached prominence after years of hype -- Che-Hsuan Lin was flying under the radar.
However, when you hit a home run on the very first pitch you see at Yankee Stadium in a showcase event for Minor Leaguers, you fly under the radar no longer. Lin officially went into the limelight on Sunday afternoon, walking off with the Most Valuable Player Award in the annual XM All-Star Futures Game.
Lin had entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, going to center field as a defensive replacement. The 19-year-old center fielder from Taiwan wasted no time making an impact.
With one on and two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Lin stepped to the plate with his red and white bat and raked a first-pitch, 94-mph heater from Rockies prospect Ryan Mattheus. In a game dominated by pitching, Lin's homer -- which curled just inside the foul pole -- was the biggest hit of the day. It turned a 1-0 lead by the World Team into an eventual 3-0 victory over the United States Team.
"At the beginning, I was a little nervous at Yankee Stadium, on a big league field," said Lin through interpreter Mickey Jiang. "But on the home run at-bat, I was trying to get a good pitch to hit. It was a middle-in fastball."
Lin flared a single to left in his second at-bat, finishing with a 2-for-2 afternoon.
The bat used to produce those two hits is on its way to Cooperstown, N.Y., where it will be displayed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"It's a brand new bat," said Lin. "I'm so happy. It's such an honor. I just unsealed it this morning."
It was somewhat unique to see a player associated with the Red Sox getting cheers at Yankee Stadium.
"I didn't think too much about the cheering," Lin said. "Maybe one day when I become a big leaguer, there will be no more. But it's something, with the tradition, I respect that."
Lin offers an exciting skill set similar, in some respects, to Ellsbury.
Just don't mention the "E" word too close to the humble Lin.
"There's no comparison between me and Ellsbury," Lin said. "He's the best outfielder in the past couple of years to come through our system. I don't think too much about that. I'll just keep working hard and get to the big leagues as fast as I can."
The Red Sox's international scouting department quietly signed Lin out of Taiwan in June 2007, beating out several competitors.
"We liked his defensive ability, arm strength, speed, projectable bat and work ethic," said Craig Shipley, vice president of international scouting for the Red Sox.
According to reports, Lin passed up at least one offer that was financially more lucrative than what he got from the Red Sox.
"All I care about when I play baseball is that it's fun," said Lin. "Signing bonus is not a big deal at the beginning of pro ball. I signed with the Red Sox because I wanted to be a part of the Red Sox."
And now that they are getting to watch Lin up close, the Red Sox's decision-makers and evaluators are starting to like him even more.
A leadoff batter with blazing speed and standout defense, Lin is spending his season at Class A Greenville, where he is hitting .251 with five homers, 34 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. Despite Sunday's home run heroics, the right-handed-hitting Lin is a work in progress at the plate.
But the rest of his game is enough to turn heads.
"In our opinion, he's got really strong defensive ability. Great instincts. Makeup speed in the outfield. Very strong, plus throwing arm," said Mike Hazen, director of player development for the Red Sox. "There's a lot to like out there. He's very athletic. He certainly plays a premium position, which is always a plus. And then with the bat, he's got some power. He can hit."
The main question with Lin centers on what type of hitter he will evolve into.
"I still think we're looking from an approach standpoint to really refine and perfect an approach," Hazen said. "I think his plate discipline is good, but I think we can see that a little bit more consistently. Again, he's a very young player in an older league, so you traditionally don't see that very much. And as a true leadoff guy, that's a skill that, much like Ellsbury, he's going to need. He's a top-of-the-order center fielder, premium position guy that is going to need to know how to get on base, and to get on base very well."
Sunday's trip to New York was a reward for the strides Lin has already made in his brief professional career.
"We've got bunches of talent, especially in the outfield, in our farm system," said Lin. "I feel lucky to be the one selected for the Futures Game."
Lin more than justified his selection by ripping one into the seats.
Perhaps the next legendary baseball park he will play at is Fenway.
"I was there once last year," Lin said. "I just watched a game. But that's my goal -- to play at Fenway and represent the Red Sox."
Despite his claim of early nerves, Lin looked entirely comfortable on a big stage.
"This guy has a tremendous amount of international experience, even at the age that he is," said Hazen. "He's played on the Taiwanese national team. He played against Cuba and Japan and Australia and Korea in all those international competitions so he's had a decent amount of experience for a 19-year-old kid. He's had a lot more than a lot of our other guys have had, I'll say that. I think he's a little bit more worldly and mature in that area, because he's been exposed to more."
And there will be more in Lin's near future. He will suit up for Taiwan in the 2008 Summer Olympics, cutting short his season in Greenville by about a month.
"That will be another great experience, and then this one on top of that," said Hazen.
Short of leading Taiwan to the gold medal, Lin might be hard-pressed to top his Sunday afternoon in New York.
"It's one of the best memories of my life, of my baseball career, to hit a home run in the last year of Yankee Stadium, so I'll enjoy it," said Lin.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.