Desmond Lindsay didn’t have much of a chance to prepare for the new reality facing him when he took the field for the first time for the Gulf Coast League Mets in Port St. Lucie.
Lindsay was standing in center field for the first time as a professional baseball player, so, of course, the first batter of Lindsay’s first GCL game drilled a line drive in his direction.
He quickly tried to get a read on the ball and saw it was heading over his head.
“I just remember how nervous I was,” Lindsay said. “It didn’t look good, but I caught it.”
It’s been a little more than a year since New York drafted Lindsay in the second round of the 2015 MLB draft out of Out-of-Door Academy and a bit less than a year since Lindsay decided to forgo a college career at North Carolina and sign with the Mets. He knows his bat wasn’t where it should have been during his brief time in the minors last summer — he batted .263 in 134 plate appearances split between the GCL Mets and Class A Brooklyn — because of how much he had to worry about adjusting to his new surroundings.
He wasn’t just making a leap from high school to the pros. He also had to learn how to play center field for the first time.
“I had to learn everything,” Lindsay said. “Pretty much every spare moment I have from the coaches is not devoted to hitting, basically, it was just teaching me how to play center.”
A move to the outfield was inevitable for Lindsay. Although he was a corner infielder at Out-of-Door, the Tar Heels wanted him as an outfielder. Most scouting services pegged the Bradenton native for a future in a corner outfield spot or even first base after he spent most of his time with the Thunder as a third baseman.
He felt as though he had the physical tools to take on the challenge, and New York’s faith helped. The Mets were willing to let him spend virtually all his time with outfield coordinator Benny DiStefano. His offensive production, they felt, was a certainty at some point.
“A player we feel is basically an offensive machine,” is how New York scouting director Tommy Tanous described Lindsay after using the 53rd overall pick to choose him.
And even with his attention diverted, Lindsay posted a line of .304/.400/.464 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging) during 81 plate appearances in the GCL. His .200 batting average in 53 plate appearances with Brooklyn weighed his numbers down.
So the Mets have been patient. Lindsay missed most of his senior year at ODA with a hamstring injury, so he joined New York without having played regularly for about eight months. He didn’t make his official debut until July 24 and wound up ranging the unfamiliar grounds of center field in 30 of 35 games.
“I was kind of just a little nervous,” Lindsay said. “Going into pro ball is one thing, but going into pro ball playing a totally different position that you’ve played before. I just didn’t know how it was going to go. I felt confident in my abilities to learn the position eventually, but it made for a very uncomfortable first couple of months.
“The first year is out of the way and now it’s a lot better.”
He expects his production at the plate to be better this year, as he’s now splitting his focus during extended spring training pretty evenly between defense and offense.
And even though he isn’t sure where he’ll be once the New York-Penn League season begins Friday, the past year in professional baseball affirmed he made the right decision a year ago jumping straight from high school. Now, his focus is on learning, and the opportunities he’s getting with New York would have had to wait if he had gone to UNC.
“They’re more geared to the instructional side in pro ball, whereas in college it’s really mostly like you’ve got to win,” Lindsay said. “That was definitely nice because, especially in the Gulf Coast League, if you lose a game it’s not the end of the world. No one’s losing their job over it. I knew that if for some reason I did something wrong and lost the team the game I wasn’t going to get chewed out.”