Coming in at No. 27 on our preseason top 30 prospect list, center fielder Kingston Liniak has a frame and skill set that can only be summarized by one of the most overused words in player evaluation — toolsy.
After just a couple hundred at-bats in rookie ball, we know about as much about Liniak as we would about most prep bats with his profile. Quite simply, this is a potentially high-ceiling player but he is not going to come to fruition overnight. His introduction to professional baseball hardly produced a sparkling stat line, as he struck out 29.6 percent of the time and walked just 3.8 percent of the time in his 213 plate appearances, mostly with the Detroit Tigers’ Gulf Coast League affiliate.
Nonetheless, ranking prospects is an inexact science that requires a balancing act between floor and ceiling projections, and Liniak’s ceiling is high enough that it warrants him being on our list.
Liniak has a baseball pedigree; his father, Justin Liniak, was a late round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1993. His uncle, Cole Liniak, had a 32 at-bat major league career over two small cups of java with the Chicago Cubs in 1999 and 2000.
After Kingston missed virtually his entire junior season after breaking his hand diving back to first on a pick-off attempt, scouts flocked to see his five tools on display during his senior campaign. Batting lead-off for his Mission Hills High School squad in San Marcos, California, all Liniak did was hit .456 with four home runs, 17 doubles, and 30 stolen bases in 35 games.
The Tigers selected the now 19-year old Liniak in the fourth round of the 2018 amateur draft. He had been committed to the University of San Diego, but the Tigers were able to pluck him away from the college ranks with a hefty $900,000 signing bonus, well over the $533,000 slot value.
Here’s what the contact can look like when he gets the bat head out.
Liniak is the kind of player that we have been clamoring for the Tigers to target on draft day for years now. He has boatloads of potential and a real chance to impact the game on both sides of the ball. The reason he slipped to the fourth round and is ranked in the bottom portion of our list is because he will take a long time to develop. Also, there is a huge amount of risk associated with his skillset. Don’t let that fool you, though. This young outfielder is a fantastic addition to Detroit’s farm system.
At present, speed and athleticism are Liniak’s greatest assets. His 6.5 second speed in the 60-yard dash translates on the field, with one scout referring to Liniak as “a greyhound.” Liniak can leg out extra-base hits, swipe a bag, and chase down gappers. With the combination of speed and his plus arm, he will most likely stick in center field going forward.
At 6’2 and 170 pounds coming out of high school, there is plenty of projection left in Liniak’s body. As he fills out his skinny frame, added power will undoubtedly follow. A couple years of strength training in the professional ranks has the potential to result into a lot more raw power. He already has a decent amount of bat speed, which is a huge step in the right direction on that front. The Tigers may choose to limit the amount that he bulks up, however, in order to preserve the athleticism and speed that makes him an outstanding defender.
Not to be forgotten, Liniak is a strong competitor on the mental side of the game. He has been praised by Scott Pleis, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting, among others, as a kid who knows how to play the game and “brings it” every time he takes the field.
It’s always the hit tool, isn’t it? We should never rely on a prep draftee’s first foray into the Gulf Coast League as a predictor of what is to come in the future — the transition to pro ball is huge and it’s often too small a sample size to be trusted in the first place. Liniak has been labeled as a project from Day One. The fact that he struggled making consistent contact and posted a sub-.600 OPS is no cause for alarm.
But that’s it. That’s the weakness in Liniak’s game. He is a raw offensive piece and there is a lot of work to be done to get him up to snuff. There’s no guarantee that he will ever develop enough acumen at the plate to handle mid-90s heat or consistently decent breaking balls. Scouts seem to think the power will arrive at some point, even though it’s mostly absent right now.
Whether Liniak hits is a huge factor in whether he is able to succeed, even though so much of his value is tied to his defensive abilities. The sport no longer has room for glove-only players at the major league level. Former Tigers prospect Dixon Machado exemplifies that point well; his defense was never in doubt, but he maxed out in Triple-A because he couldn’t handle high-level pitching.
James Chipman over at TigsTown captured a few of Liniak’s swings against pro pitching that exemplify some of the work left to be done.
Projected 2019 Team: Connecticut Tigers
Unlike fellow 2018 high school draftee Parker Meadows, Liniak’s hit tool will need a lot more work before he is ready to step into full-season ball with the West Michigan Whitecaps. The Tigers did give him a spell up in Connecticut at the end of last season, and that is his likely landing spot after some instruction in extended spring training.
Advancement of said hit tool will determine Liniak’s fate. After all, he has three above-average to plus-graded tools in his back pocket already, with some raw power potential to boot. If the hit tool blossoms, he is an everyday center fielder in the major leagues. If the hit tool blossoms and the raw power can be tapped into to become game power, he has All-Star caliber potential. But there is work to be done first.