Name: Winston Oliver Linton
Drafted: 13th Round, 2008
Weight: 160 lbs
History: Ollie Linton set the University of California-Irvine single season and career record for stolen bases despite spending the 2006 season with the Little Falls Diamond Miners. More than just his speed impressed in college, as Linton batted over .300 in each of his three seasons with the Anteaters and tied for second on the team with four home runs last year.
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
Linton parlayed that collegiate success into a 13th-round draft selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks last June.
"It came to the point where [the Diamondbacks] were talking to me a little more [than the other teams were], so I had a feeling I would be picked by them, and I luckily was," Linton explained.
A glance at Linton's numbers in Missoula leads one to believe that the transition from aluminum to wooden bats sapped Linton of all his offensive value besides his speed. While the transition was indeed a hard one, an injury played into his subpar performance there.
"I had some hand issues that were causing me to not do my best out there, but I got over that, and I'm just glad to be up here now," Linton said after his promotion to South Bend.
Linton provided the Silver Hawks with the leadoff hitter and centerfield shagger that they had been missing ever since Evan Frey got promoted to Visalia. Not only did he reach base at over a 38% clip and score 25 runs in 34 games, but Linton did not ground into a single double play in 137 Midwest League at-bats. In seven postseason games, he batted .308, walked three times, and stole two bases.
Batting and Power: Linton's not going to hit for home run power at the professional level. One of his shots this year was an inside-the-parker, and he just doesn't figure to have the strength to hit the ball out of professional parks with a wooden bat.
"I try to put the ball on the ground and make the defense make the play," Linton explained while in college. "If I run into a few balls, I'm happy about it."
Unfortunately, Linton has had some struggles making consistent contact with the ball as a pro. He understands the strike zone extremely well and rarely chases bad pitches, but can have trouble with good pitches around the zone. His bat speed isn't always good enough to hit hard fastballs and struggles with good breaking stuff as most players in Low-A ball do.
Linton is an excellent bunter, both for sacrifices and for base hits. He is able to square around late and catch infielders off-guard while still deadening the ball and keeping it fair. His bunts do not need to be perfect, as his legs get him from the left-handed batter's box to first base in no time at all.
Base Running and Speed: Linton is among the fastest players in the Diamondbacks organization, and should probably drop down bunts more often than he does. It sometimes takes a suggestion from a teammate for him to think of bunting for a hit. Showing bunt more often would also bring the third baseman closer in and increase the odds of a ground ball to the left side getting through.
In terms of running the bases, however, Linton needs no prodding from others.
"I pretty much have the green light," he confided. "I've just got to do it at the right time and be smart about it."
Linton is still polishing his base stealing instincts, but a solid foundation is already there. Certain pitchers still throw off the timing of his jump, but the majority of them are at his mercy. Right now, Linton is good but not great at the other aspects of base running, such as anticipating wild pitches and taking extra bases. Because speed is such a large part of his game, Linton figures to work on that and become one of the best in the business before long.
Defense: Anyone who has seen Linton play defense is amazed at how effortlessly he covers ground in the outfield. Or seemingly effortlessly. Linton works hard on his defense and does not merely rely on his speed to make up for bad reaction times or routes.
"I try to get my work in every day and not take my defense for granted," said Linton modestly. "I try to do my best to keep the score low and do my part out there."
Linton has elicited many a standing ovation for his diving catches in the outfield, but it is the ones he doesn't dive for that impressed his manager at South Bend.
"He has good instincts and is very knowledgeable when it comes to reading the ball off the bat," said Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley. "He can really turn on the afterburners. I've seen him do that, then have to stop and wait for the ball."
Linton's arm is below average for centerfield. It would be fine in left, but the unbelievable amount of ground he covers would be wasted anywhere but centerfield.
Major League Clone: Michael Bourn
Prediction: Linton will almost certainly make the big leagues at some point as a reserve outfielder due to his terrific speed and outfield range. It will be difficult for him to be an everyday player only because the culture of baseball now is centered more around hitting than running. If he can still draw walks against major league pitching, however, there's no reason that he can't be part of a centerfield/leadoff hitter platoon.
Timetable: A strong showing in spring training will allow Linton to begin the season in Visalia. If he does break camp back in South Bend, he will not be there for long. Linton still needs several more years of minor league seasoning, which is just as well with the clog of outfielders blocking his path in the Diamondbacks organization.
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