Carolina Mudcats outfielder Connor Lien is living two lives.
The first is the one he is living out at Five County Stadium and in the Carolina League, as a speedy centerfielder whose fourth professional season is his best.
The other is in an alternative cosmos in Orlando, Fla., on the campus of the University of Central Florida, where he is prepping for his professional career or his senior season of college baseball and a degree.
In both cases, he is 21, playing baseball and having a blast carrying that out. But reality afforded Lien one choice. He picked door number one.
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Lien was 17 when he decided to take the first life choice, forgoing a paradise of college baseball among theme parks at Central Florida for life on busses that skirt across Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.
"I’ve always wanted to play baseball,” Lien said. “Central Florida is a great place with a great campus. I’ve just wanted to play baseball, and that’s what I’m doing.”
It is rare to see a high school prospect vault through the minor leagues in three to four years; Mike Trout spent three seasons in the minors before storming into the major leagues. So four years of minor league baseball at or below Class-A ball is not terribly unusual.
“I’m learning throughout, adding little things to what I do,” Lien said. “Using my speed is important, and using all of the field is something I need to work on. It’s nothing too drastic of what I’m doing, but how (I am doing it).”
Looking at Lien's statistics as if they were on the back of a baseball card, his 2015 season jumps out as the breakout season. He has flirted with .300, has more extra-base hits than any previous three minor-league seasons and has put together a handful of hitting streaks in June and July.
Many prospect ranking services agree, as Lien has joined the conversation of the top 15 to 20 prospects in a stacked Braves organization. ESPN's Keith Law ranked Atlanta's farm system second best in baseball. That rise from being in the bottom 10 teams a year ago is primarily because of deals made to trade established All-Stars like Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward for a bevy of highly-regarded prospects.
Lien has what scouts call “plus speed,” a description backed up by watching him sprint out from the dugout before each game. Mudcats manager Luis Salazar said he wishes his centerfielder used his biggest asset more.
“He is 3-for-4 when he lays down a bunt, which is really good,” Salazar said earlier in July. “Even if he bunts on-base four out of 10 times, that’s still a .400 average and it helps you. But his attitude has been great (when we have these conversations).”
Lien is fast, but his 6-foot-4 frame allows for some strength at the plate. Like the rest of his game, it has clear potential but has not been fully realized yet.
“He’s got everything to succeed physically; he has the size and the speed to do whatever he wants,” Salazar said. “He needs to keep working at it like he has, and he will do well.”