Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Blast From the Past: Todd Linden

Of all the Giants prospects I have ever been irrationally exuberant about, I think Todd Linden just might top the list.  His story has to be one of the strangest and most frustrating of any prospect I know about.  He is now apparently retired at age 33 as the Augusta Chronicle has announced that he will be joining the Augusta Greenjackets' coaching staff as a co-hitting coach with holdover, Hector Borg.

Todd Linden was drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2001 draft by the Giants after a dominant junior season at LSU in which he put up a slash line of .312/.397/.609 with 20 HR's.  The Giants had scouted him in the Cape Cod League and liked what they saw of him using wood bats.  Linden, a native of the State of Washington transferred to LSU from University of Washington after his sophomore season due to a conflict with his coach at Washington.  This may have been a harbinger of trouble ahead, but it took a long time for it to become apparent.

The Giants gave him a very aggressive initial pro assignment in 2002 with AA Shreveport in the Texas League where he raked a slash line of .314/.419/.482 with 12 HR in 392 AB.  That was the last time he would play at a lower level than AAA in his career.  He received a late season promotion to AAA Fresno where his line was not as impressive at .250/.380/.380 with 3 HR in 100 AB, but it was a small sample size.

Back in Fresno to start the 2003 season at age 23, he put up a commendable but not dominant line of .278/.356/.412 with 11 HR and 14 SB's.  I saw him play in Fresno that season in a game he almost singlehandedly won.  In the first inning, he singled, stole 2B and scored on a single.  In the 9'th inning he doubled in 2 runs for a walk off 3-2 win.  He was big, fast, a switch-hitter.  He hit for a decent average with power, excellent walk rates and manageable K rates.  In short, he was a true 5 tool player with skills!  I was convinced he was the next great Giants OF!  He got a September callup to the Giants and I saw him hit one of the most impressive HR's I've ever seen into the second deck at Dodger Stadium down the LF line, a truly monster shot that apparently only Frank Howard had ever reached before.  Vin Scully couldn't stop raving about him on the Dodger TV broadcast and predicted  a long, successful MLB career.

He was sent back to Fresno in 2004, much to my disgust at the time.  He put up a disappointing line there of .260/.349/.466 with 23 HR's.  Still, it was disappointing only in light of his enormous expectations.  He hit just .156 in another late season call up.

2005 found him back in Fresno once again, and this time he crushed it:  .321/.437/.682 with 30 HR's.  He got a longer look in SF and did a little better this time:  .216/.280/.333 with 4 HR's.  2006 found him splitting time between Fresno and SF, hitting .278/.385/.449 in 187 AB's for Fresno and .273/.356/.455 with 2 HR in just 77 AB over 61 games for the Giants.

He started out 2007 with the Giants but fell flat on his face hitting just .182/.250/.200 and was traded to the Florida Marlins where he hit .271/.347/.364.  From that point on, he became strictly a AAA player with a  2 year stint in Japan sandwiched in between.

So, what happened to Todd Linden?  Why did he never fulfill the promise of his college and early minor league career?  We may never know.  I still have my doubts about whether the Giants handled him correctly and whether he ever really got a fair shot with them.  I will always wonder what might have happened if they had put him out there one of those seasons and just given him 600 AB's.  It's not like the Giants had alternatives that were setting the world on fire, or that they were contending for a pennant at the time.

One possible answer is his apparently cocky attitude and prickly personality which may have been hinted at by is problems with his college coach at Washington.  I saw him play at Dodger Stadium one night where he clearly misplayed a ball, then threw up his hands and yelled at the second baseman trying to deflect the blame onto a teammate.  I saw several Giants veterans get in his face in the dugout after that and saw him again waving his arms.  Then, Andy Baggarly told a story on his Extra Baggs blog about an unnamed young OF with a lot of talent who missed a cutoff man on a throw.  The next day in the clubhouse a coach asked him if he would like some extra work on his throws. The player declined saying "I'm good."  That player had short MLB career.  It wasn't too hard to figure out who that young player was!

Ironically, as Todd Linden's sad and frustrating career comes to an apparent end, the kid who didn't like to be coached is now a coach himself! I can only wish him the best in his new career and continue to dream about what might have been.


  1. I remember when Linden came up, although I was very young at the time. I had no idea about his college or minor league pedigree back then. I guess I still really never knew that he climbed the latter that quickly. I do remember being very excited about him though, as I was with John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa, Fred Lewis and many others. It's interesting that the organization would bring Linden in as an instructor... let's hope he doesn't preach what he practiced in terms of attitude and ego. Thanks for the look-back DrB, I definitely learned a few things today.

    1. Yeah, I thought I knew his career path, but this just makes it all the more sadder to me, seeing it all laid out like this.

      I would add another tidbit of trivia, though my memory is sketchy. From what I recall, Linden did not sign immediately and didn't sign in time to play pro ball in his draft year, and at some point, he realized that his agent was not doing his job, so he took over negotiations, working directly with the Giants, and ended up taking a discount relative to what other prospects got around him, from what I recall.

      Yeah, funny that he's a coach, but perhaps he has matured as he got older and got humbled.

  2. That was almost Scully-esque the way you recounted all those stories about Linden (and actually a lot of your posts), DrB.

    It's certainly more interesting than stats.

    1. Thank you, BLSL. Glad you enjoy reading the posts and appreciate the comments.