Che-Hsuan Lin used to be an exciting prospect. The Taiwanese import was an international signing of the Red Sox back in 2007, and it was believed he had the potential to grow into a very productive major-league player. Over the years, though, faith in him waned as his offense failed to live up to its potential. Since his glove is fantastic, though, he continued to progress through the minors, and very well may spend significant time in the majors in 2013, now that he's a member of the lightweight Houston Astros.
The Astros are headed to the AL next season, and will be able to fit more offense into their lineup through the designated hitter slot. This might mean someone like Lin, who is defense first, bat second, could pick up enough playing time to make him a player in AL-only leagues. That's a pretty significant maybe, though, especially after you look at some of his offensive stats through the years. Even if he gets the kind of playing time that makes him draft-eligible in AL-only formats, you might not want what he brings to the table.
Sox Prospects has a full scouting report on Lin, a player they have watched closely for half-a-decade now:
Medium build, without much more room to fill out. Solid athlete. Compact, level swing through the hitting zone. Not much leverage or upward plane in swing. Generates fringe-average batspeed. Above-average approach and pitch recognition. Excels at working counts. Rarely chases offerings outside of his strike zone. Shows bat control to spoil tough pitches, hang deep into counts, and get bat on the ball. Struggles to square up pitches. Can struggle with balance at plate. Swing requires maintenance. Creates infrequent instances of backspin, with a lot of contact resulting in weak grounders or flares. Below-average hit tool. Does not barrel enough balls up to produce average batting averages at the major league level. Well below-average power projection. Plus speed. Ability to steal 20 bases in the big leagues. Well-above average defender. Possesses outstanding defensive instincts. Seems to get a head start on balls off the bat. Covers excellent ground from gap-to-gap. Plus-plus arm, with improving accuracy. Projects as a bench player at the major league level, with emphasis on role as defensive replacement/pinch runner.
There's a ton of emphasis on his defense there, and with good reason. That will be what gets him playing time in the majors. He'll have to hit at some point, though, so what will he be able to do in that regard? He's never going to hit for much power. In his career in the minors, Lin has slugged .344 with an Isolated Power of .088. On the other hand, he was also on base 35 percent of the time, and this in spite of a .256 batting average. Lin has the patience to draw walks, and he has the speed to steal some bases, too. That could be where he becomes intriguing in AL-only.
There are a few issues with that, though. For one, it's less likely his on-base percentage will be a positive in the majors, given pitchers there will have less reason to fear him than even minor-league pitchers did. They can challenge him in the zone and force him to hit his way on, and historically, that hasn't worked well in Lin's favor. There's a reason his line in Triple-A over parts of two seasons is just .242/.324/.305. If he can steal double-digits in bases, though, get some runs along the way, and play consistently, that might merit that fifth outfield spot.*
*Assuming your league is deep enough to force you to think that way, anyway. Someone reading this who only plays mixed is looking at Lin (and people who might own him) as if they're crazy.
He's a gamble. For the Astros, and for owners next year. It's unlikely he'll pick up tons of playing time, but he might end up with just enough to make him interesting at some point in 2013. It's also worth seeing if a change in scenery works for him from a coaching standpoint -- will Lin finally develop a little closer to what was expected of him, or is this actually him and all there is to see already? The good news is, he's a $1 player or possibly one of those post-auction depth pickups that comes free of charge, so you don't have to invest much to find out.