(5) Taylor Lindsey, 21, 2b. AA. 3.8 WAR, +14 bat, +5 glove .272/.337/.439 with 17 HR and 4 SB
Lindsey went deep seventeen times last year, vaulting the 21 year-old to the head of every 2014 Angels' prospect list. Only four Angels' farmhands have hit more homeruns in the Texas League since the Travs' Dickey-Stephens Park opened in 2007, making the power display from the Halos' slight middle infielder quite the feat. Here he is, folks: the future of the franchise.
When I asked Bobby Scales about whether Lindsey's 2013 power surge surprised the organization's brass, he answered with a straight ‘no.' The homerun output, he said, was about where they projected him to be at the next level. Scales threw in the obligatory bit about Lindsey not being a "big power guy" - consistent contact is his ticket to the big leagues - but I was surprised at how quickly he expressed confidence in "the power numbers [looking] about right." That's good news, because if the Halos are evaluating Lindsey's talent correctly, then they have on hand a future regular who's more Neil Walker than Skip Shoemaker; more fringe allstar than place holder (no offense to Skip, who's made one hell of a career out of holding places).
Lindsey's present distance power is exclusively to his pull side, and it can be impressive at times. Just 22 and a gifted hitter, Lindsey may still mature into even more pop as he moves into his mid-20's. While I'm not calling such development likely, anecdotally Lindsey fits the profile of a guy with enough natural hitting skills to outperform talent evaluators' tools-based projections. He controls the strikezone well for someone so young, fanning in only 16% of his 2013 plate appearances while walking 8.5% of the time. He risks getting pull happy at times, but when going right he racks up singles and doubles to the opposite field, and may even start driving some balls over the leftfield fence as he gets stronger. Baseball America's scouting report on him really nailed it:
As he reads the pitch, nearly all his weight rests on his back foot while his front foot hangs in the air. He then uncoils into the pitch. It's the kind of stance that should leave him caught leaning on offspeed pitches... but Lindsey has the quick hands to make it work. Because the rhythm of his swing is so important, he will go through stretches where he looks lost at the plate, but those difficulties are matched by stretches when he's hitting everything.
In spring training of 2012, we saw one of those good stretches in High Def: he hit .471/.471/.706 in big league camp, with two of his extra base hits going to the opposite field. In 2013, his power exploded through May and June, and then flared again in August. On the other hand, he was crummy in the AFL, hitting just .225/.270/.363 with a pair of HR's, and hasn't shown much so far this spring training. He's streaky, but really can drive an offense when he's right.
While scouting reports are tepid or worse regarding his defensive tools, he has worked hard to make himself a proficient second baseman, and Texas League managers voted him the best in the circuit. He turns the double play well, shows good footwork on difficult plays, and has excellent hands, so my feeling is he will outperform expectations in the field. He doesn't have much speed, so probably won't add a whole lot value on the bases.
The high floor makes him a viable candidate to step into Howie Kendrick's shoes (hopefully at the conclusion of Howie's contract, and not due to a trade born of desperation); the upside in his power tool makes him the most exciting candidate.
*** I was going to cut the following section, but changed my mind. It doesn't come out to an argument, but it's fodder for thought.
Arkansas' Dickey Stevens Park inflicts different handicaps on different hitters, and in Taylor Lindsey's case the performance outcomes were extreme: he managed just a .242/.320/.373 home slash line while mashing .301/.357/.500 on the road, despite going deep seven times at home (once more than Mark Trumbo did, back in the day). That works out to a 160 point OPS gap that is not explained at all by distance power. Rather, his home BABIP (.255) was nearly 100 points lower than his road BABIP. Now, I'm not a fan of writing off BABIP as luck, so that leads to a host of questions: just how much of the variance was fluke? Did the park get into his head somehow? Did he change his approach at home? I'll have a better database on line with BABIP data for next year, so will revisit these questions...
In the meantime, I expect good things for him in the PCL. Bump up the BABIP to .350 (the average of all high performers who made the Halosheaven rankings), and Lindsey's 2013 slash line jumps to around .310/.375/.490, and that's before adjusting for any increase in power. He's likely in for a much prettier overall slash line with the Bees.