Just How Good Is Chin-Lung Hu?

There have always been those who doubted the hitting ability of Chin-Lung Hu. Now, not only are they chorusing, "I told you so" but some are even questioning his fielding.

Hu is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League where he was sent to work on his batting. He hasn't been producing much as a .214 average illustrates. What's more, one scout on the scene doubts that he's all that wonderful with a glove- and that's always been Hu's main attraction as a player.

But, said scout declared that he's not the player you want the ball hit to at a crucial moment although he did allow that Hu had quickness and agility. Maybe so, but he'll get arguments from the pitchers who've been working in front of Hu these past few years. They've greatly appreciated his range and glove work.

It's been good enough to make him an All-Star every year he's been a pro. For the past three, he's teamed with second baseman Tony Abreu to form an absolutely marvelous double play combination. They did that at Columbus, Vero Beach and this year at Jacksonville.

At 5-9, 152 pounds Hu doesn't scare anybody when he arrives at the plate. But his is a muscular compact frame and he was able to hit over .300 in his first three seasons. This year, though, he managed only a .254 mark and now he's had problems in the AFL although his overall performance was still good enough to get him named to the Future Stars showcase for that league just as he was picked for the Futures Game this summer.

When Hu arrived here from Taiwan in 2003 he spoke no English at all but now his command of the language is such that he's been chosen to do a weekly newsletter for mlb.com. In it he notes that he's only struck out three times so he's meeting the ball but the hits aren't falling in.

But, you know what? He's tired and it's showing. After all, his season started in January with intensive drills for the World Baseball Classic in which he was chosen to play for his country. And, although he faced a lot of good pitching in that series, he stroked the ball, hitting. 417.

Then came a hurried spring training, followed by the Southern League season, the playoffs in that league and now the Arizona doings. He's finishing up his 10th straight month at this so it's no wonder that he's drooping rather than driving the ball as sharply as before.

In any case, Hu's one more of those that received another year's exemption from the Rule 5 as part of the new Basic Agreement so the club can safely stow him away in the minors for another year. He won't get to that immediately either for the grind continues. There's the Asian Games in which he's slated to play for Taiwan once more.

Why doesn't he beg off, you ask? Ah, there's another draft that has to be of concern for Taiwan has compulsory military service, which he hasn't fulfilled since he signed right out of high school. The deal is that if he plays for the national team when asked, they won't insist he drop his bat and pick up a rifle.

So it looks like another long year for Hu. It's a crucial one for him in which he either demonstrates that he can handle his role at a higher level or starts looking over his shoulder as the likes of Ivan DeJesus, Jr,. moves up.

There are those critics out there. There are his supporters, too and that includes some clubs who would like to trade for him. It certainly includes those who've watched him on a regular basis for the past three seasons. That group feels he's a more than ordinary prospect.