PAWTUCKET ā Without hesitation, Kyle Weiland knew that if an opposing hitterās fly ball to center field could be caught, it would.
Che-Hsuan Lin is that reliable.
But when Weiland began the 2011 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, the right-hander was separated from his security blanket, the vacuum cleaner of an outfielder he had played with since 2009.
Much to Weilandās delight, they were reunited May 21, when Lin was promoted to Pawtucket from Double-A Portland.
āWe love him in the outfield,ā Weiland said of the 22-year-old Lin, a six-foot, 180-pound prospect out of Taiwan who is widely considered the top defensive outfielder in Bostonās farm system. āThe plays he makes, it speaks for itself how good he is out there.ā
And while Lin is still learning the English language, more than a few people are willing to rave about Pawtucketās new center fielder and leadoff hitter ā chief among them his current and former manager, PawSox skipper Arnie Beyeler.
āHeās a pretty good player,ā said Beyeler, who also managed Lin in Portland last season. āHeās a good defender, he can play all the outfield spots and heās getting on base, setting the table for guys. Heās a good baserunner, can steal bases. Heās got a lot of ability. As you guys will see, itās pretty fun to watch him play.ā
Beyeler certainly enjoyed watching Lin a season ago, when he racked up 15 outfield assists and was named the Red Soxās 2010 minor league Defensive Player of the Year, not to mention being rated by Baseball America as the top defensive outfielder and having the best outfield arm in Bostonās farm system.
Five games into his Triple-A career, Lin had reached base safely in each, hitting .421 with a .478 on-base percentage and a .899 on-base plus slugging percentage through 23 plate appearances. This after posting a .268/.373/.706 line with 12 stolen bases in 34 games with the Sea Dogs, for whom he batted .275 with two home runs, 34 RBIs and 26 steals in 119 games last year.
Yet for all the accolades Lin has received for his defense, his offense remains a work in progress.
āIām focused on hitting right now, trying to get on base as much as I can and finding a good pitch to swing [at],ā Lin said through translator Mickey Jiang. āI want to be more aggressive and hit a ball instead of just taking it if itās right down the middle.ā
After watching Lin register a solid .386 OBP last season, Beyeler has noticed an even more patient hitter in 2011.
āIt looks like heās a little more disciplined at the plate,ā Beyeler said. āHeās driven some balls, squared some balls up. His approach has gotten a little more disciplined, maybe knowing his strengths a little bit better.ā
Lin has quite the baseball rĆ©sumĆ© for a player who hasnāt yet reached the major leagues. He earned Most Valuable Player honors at the 2008 All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium, represented Taiwan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and suited up for Chinese Taipei during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Each of those achievements came as a member of the Red Sox organization, which signed Lin as an undrafted free agent on June 8, 2007. Several other teams showed interest in Linās services, but he chose Boston ā and its $400,000 signing bonus ā in part because of his familiarity with a Red Sox scout who had watched him play for years.
Weiland has seen plenty of Lin in recent seasons, having played with him at Class A Advanced Salem in 2009 and in Portland last year. Simply mention Linās name to Weiland and a brimming smile crosses the pitcherās face.
āIām extremely confident having him out there,ā Weiland said. āIt gives you the freedom to not be so picky, I would say. You donāt try to change your approach as a pitcher, but when you know you have a guy who can track balls down like that, and maybe with a guy on second base heās going to throw him out or have a really good chance to throw him out at the plate, it helps your confidence.ā
The key to Linās defensive brilliance stems from his ability to make sharp reads off the bat.
āI just try to get a good first jump and try to catch every ball I can,ā Lin said. āI usually get a quick first jump and just try to use my instincts.ā
Lin has spent the past four years making adjustments ā both mechanical and cultural. Day by day, he believes heās inching closer toward the player and teammate he desires to be.
āGreat teammate,ā Weiland said. āHis first year, he was pretty quiet because obviously he was learning the new language, but heās definitely gotten a lot better. Itās easy to communicate with him because if he doesnāt understand you, heāll say, āI donāt understand,ā and you explain it to him and itās like he stores it in his brain right away. Iām very impressed with how quickly heās adapted to playing over here.ā
Said Lin, āBack in ā07, it was hard for me to get used to the culture, language, food. But as time goes by, Iām getting better and better at talking to my teammates and the coaching staff. Iām working on my English-speaking ability. I feel more comfortable.ā
More comfortable than Weiland with Lin patrolling center field? Donāt count on it.
āHe brings everything he has, every day,ā Weiland said. āEveryone gets tired, itās a long season, but you know heās not going to cut corners or give half efforts. He always gives 100 percent, which, if youāre a pitcher, thatās the guy you want in the outfield.ā