Following professional sports becomes defined by the team followed passionately with particular interest and unwavering support. Through the wins, losses, championships, and last place finished a sacred bond forms and resonates with each successive year. As a professional athlete the odds of playing for the team you watched growing up are as remote as seeing the next .400 hitter. Cal Ripken Jr, Derek Jeter, and Joe Mauer are exceptions to the trend and are the names who had the opportunity and lived out their dream. After being drafted in the second round by the New York Mets this past June, Desmond Lindsay will have his chance to join an organization his family watched passionately as he pursues big league aspirations.
Similar to Jeter, Lindsay became a Mets fan because of his grandmother. As a Sarasota native, Lindsay spent much of his time on the baseball diamond developing his skills while improving progressively on both sides of the baseball. Lindsay would occasionally step away from the field to share his grandmother’s passion of the Mets and become indoctrinated with the gifts of baseball. For high school, Lindsay attending Out-of-Door Academy on an academic scholarship while also finding time to play baseball and basketball. Lindsay eventually found his calling with the sport he shared with his family growing up and exclusively pursued baseball, surprising his football coach Brett Timmons, “I remember trying to convince you to play football, and you just told me, ‘No, coach. I’m going to be a baseball player,'” Timmons told Lindsay. “Since then, I’ve watched you enjoy the process and I’ve watched you grow in the process. I’m very proud of all you’ve accomplished”, (YourObserver.com).
Lindsay continued to work diligently to become a five tool player. His right-handed power opened both the eyes of coaches and scouts who envisioned strong potential from him. With a small enrollment at Out-of-Door Academy, Lindsay saw time at multiple positions on the diamond, initially starting at third base before moving to the outfield. Possessed with excellent speed and range, Lindsay became a centerfielder and continued to gain notice. Prior to his senior season, Lindsay participated in the Metropolitan Baseball Classic, a tournament specifically designed by Mets scouting director Tommy Tanous for high school products at Citi Field. The three-day showcase endeared the Mets to Lindsay as he prepared to enter his senior year.
Projected to be a possible first round draft choice by some experts, Lindsay’s stock dropped due to a hamstring injury this past spring which caused him to miss a month of his senior season. On the euphoria of seeing Lindsay when healthy, the Mets selected him with their top draft pick in the second record, surmising he could have gone higher had he not suffered the injury. After mulling a commitment to North Carolina, Lindsay chose to turn pro when the Mets offered to pay for his college education. After visiting Citi Field and signing his contract in a suite, Lindsay completed his rehab with the Gulf Coast Mets and showed not immediate signs of rust.
In just 75 at bats, Lindsay hit six home runs. An .831 OPS justified the projections of Mets scouts and in a small sample size propelled Lindsay onto the organizational list of top 30 prospects. Lindsay’s quick success in rookie ball promoted the Mets to promote him to the short season Brooklyn Cyclones at the end of August to experience a pennant race and prepare him for one of the biggest spotlights in minor league baseball. Baseball Essential caught up with Lindsay as he begins to take his initial steps in the Mets farm system.
BASEBALL ESSENTIAL: Growing up in Sarasota, Florida, you did not watch much baseball but you played often. Your grandmother is actually a Mets fan. Are you amazed that the New York Mets drafted you after having that connection to them?
DESMOND LINDSAY: “It is definitely a funny coincidence. Honestly I am surprised to have the opportunity to play seeing that I torn my hamstring senior year, so it is definitely a blessing.”
BBE: In high school, you were a three sport athlete playing baseball, basketball, and football. When did you decide to pursue a career in baseball?
DL: “I stopped playing basketball and football after my sophomore year and decided to just focus on baseball and just make sure I did not get hurt so it would not take away from playing”.
BBE: Initially you were a corner infielder before moving to the outfield. How does a player prepare to play another position and what steps did you take to adjust to the nuances of the outfield?
DL: “It was definitely a lot of practice with all of the coaches and trainers to get any sort of tips on making my outfield play better and after getting the basics down it is about getting as many reps as possible in practice. as an outfielder in order to get better.”
BBE: After being drafted in the second round, you chose to turn pro and forego a commitment to North Carolina. How agonizing is a decision like that for a high school player and can a player take courses during the offseason after signing a pro deal?
DL: “That was part of my contract with the Mets that they would pay for college. Going into the draft, it was a pretty easy decision, depending on what round I got chosen, which would determine if I would go to college or turn professional.”
BBE: A year being drafted, you participated in the Metropolitan Baseball Classic which is run by the Mets scouting department. What exactly is that tournament and how did that experience help you become familiar with the organization?
DL: “Going into the tournament I had no idea I would be drafted by the Mets. It was a fun opportunity. The first time I ever got to play in a big league ballpark. Leading into the tournament they had a meeting and the Mets scouting department went over the farm team and everything and it was a great experience”.
BBE: In early June, you spent a week visiting New York City and took in a game at Citi Field, seeing the clubhouse and signing a contract in a suite. What was that experience like for you and did you receive any advise from any players or coaches?
DL: “I did not meet any players or coaches because right after that game, the Mets were on a road trip. It was definitely a fun experience. I soaked it all in. I actually had strep throat which was a little tough, but it was a great time.”
BBE: The Mets have had eighteen players who have played for the Brooklyn Cyclones play in the major leagues this season. What does it mean for you to be able to join a team with such tradition like that in Brooklyn?
DL: “It is an awesome experience. I am happy that the Mets gave me the opportunity here to face better competition. I am glad to be out here and hopefully I can help them make a playoff push”.
BBE: What is the biggest culture shock a player faces when playing professional baseball for the first time?
DL: “Definitely going from being from a small town in Florida to playing in the GCL in front of two fans and then coming to New York to play in front of thousands of fans. That was probably the biggest thing for me. It wasn’t surprising because I knew it was going to be like this, but it was definitely a shock.”
Under vice president and player development and scouting Paul DePodesta, the New York Mets have focused on drafting position players who can later develop power. With the exceptions of Michael Conforto and Kevin Plawecki, the Mets have turned to high school players, believing they can meet their potential after spending enough time making their way up the farm system. Unlike with pitching, the process is taking longer for many of the position players, given their relative youth and the need to spend time learning their craft at the minor league level.
Before acquiring Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline, the Mets relied heavily on shuffling young players to and from Triple-A Las Vegas in order to address a big league need. The practice displayed that few of those players were fully developed and likely needed more seasoning. The influx of youth in Queens underscores a total of eighteen players on the major league roster having begun their careers with the Brooklyn Cyclones over the past decade. Desmond Lindsay, the highest draft pick to play there since Conforto is getting the opportunity to play in the spotlight and provide a spark for the club.
Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa, a veteran of over 40 seasons in professional baseball, including a few coaching stints in the majors believes Lindsay is ready to succeed at this level. “For a high school kid, I am impressed with his bat speed”, Gamboa said. “That bat gets through the zone quick. He is going to play every day. I think it is going to be fun watching him play because there is a reason why he was drafted in the second round. He looks comfortable in the outfield. Throws well and looks like he gets down the line very quickly.”
As a five tool player, Lindsay provides all of the attributes a team looks for in a centerfielder, but the age-old question is whether they can translate from potential? When it comes to a high school player, the process is a lengthy one and can only be evaluated after an extended sample size. Like 2013 first rounder Dominic Smith, Lindsay is classified as a long-range prospect who will slowly progress up the pipeline with patience and time. With Brandon Nimmo ahead of him on the depth chart, the Mets can afford to move Lindsay along at his pace, allowing to spend full seasons at each level and address each aspect of his game and become a well-rounded player. Lindsay’s stay in Brooklyn will be another stepping stone toward the ultimate goal of playing home games 18 miles away at Citi Field after years of pursuing the dream.