When Will Francisco Lindor Reach Cleveland?
Mike Brandyberry | On 16, Feb 2014
The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ young players who likely won’t make the roster but could impact the Tribe’s season before it ends.
While most Indians fans may not have seen Francisco Lindor play yet, he’s a name most fans know. For those who have not watched Lindor over the last two seasons in the bushes, this spring could be their first look at MLB.com’s #10 prospect in all of minor league baseball. While Lindor did play occasionally last spring training with the big league club, this year he receives his first official invitation to spring training.
Lindor was the eighth pick overall out of Montverde High School in Florida in the 2011 First Year Player Draft. After signing just minutes before the deadline and turning down a scholarship to Florida State, Lindor played a sparse five games with Short Season-A Mahoning Valley. In 2012, Lindor played his first full season of professional baseball at Low-A Lake County where he hit .257, with 83 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. The then-19-year old showed an ability to have strong plate awareness, drawing 61 walks and establishing a .352 on-base percentage. He struck out just 78 times in 567 plate appearances in 2011.
A year ago, Lindor started the season at High-A Carolina and after hitting .306 in 83 games, being selected a Carolina League All-Star and to the MLB’s Futures Game for the second straight season, he was promoted to Double-A Akron. His promotion may have been a surprise to just Lindor, himself.
“I was kinda mad because we lost,” Lindor said. “When I walked in the clubhouse I was mad because we lost on a walkoff. I was showered and (Mudcats manager Dave Wallace) asked me to come talk to him. He started asking me about my plans for the Futures Game and I told him and he told me, ‘we’ll see you in spring training,’ and I thought, ‘Oh my God.’”
Lindor played in just 21 games, however, before back spasms shut his season down early in late August. He did hit .289 at Akron in just 91 plate appearances and had an on-base percentage of .407 before his season was cut short.
While Lindor will see considerable time with the big league team in spring training, it is very unlikely he’ll make the jump to the big league roster early in 2014, especially with established shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera returning for another season. Instead, Lindor will very likely begin the season back in Akron with Wallace (who was promoted from Carolina during the offseason). Wallace, who Lindor describes as a father figure to him, has managed him at both Mahoning Valley and Lake County is one of his biggest believers in his star prowess.
“I’m always impressed by the combination of his maturity, focus and humility,” Wallace said. “He is gifted and talented and works as hard as anyone. He’s not an ‘I’ guy. He says it’s about the team and he believes it and backs it up.”
The most likely path and progression for Lindor is to return to Akron to start the 2014 season with midseason promotion to Triple-A Columbus. Depending how his season develops and the Indians’ season, it is very possible Lindor receives a September. With Cabrera a free agent after 2014, Lindor is likely the Opening Day starter at shortstop in 2015 if he continues to grow and develop.
Opening this season, Lindor is still just 20-years old and while he compares his game at the plate and in the field to Roberto Alomar, he feels his key to success is still to develop consistency. Developing those consistent habits, both in the field and at the plate, are the difference between the minor leagues and the big leagues.
“I hear it every day,” Lindor said last season when he was promoted from Carolina to Akron. “Be consistent, be consistent, be consistent. My dad tells me every day, be consistent. That’s where it came from. That was my mentality beginning last year and for this season. It’s not only in my playing, it’s being a family man, teammate and good friend.”
If Lindor shines this spring and demonstrates consistency in the minor leagues, he could provide a spark to the Indians lineup at some point in 2014 if an opening arises. Cabrera has suffered two injuries in the last four seasons that have sidelined him a month or longer. If Lindor shined in the minor leagues and Cabrera was injured, the Indians could consider a midseason promotion to the majors and keep Mike Aviles in a utility role to help guide and mentor the young shortstop.
If the Indians were to for some reason fall out of contention, Cabrera could be dealt at the trade deadline to a contender and Lindor could receive and early promotion to the Tribe’s roster. Barring injury to Cabrera or unforeseen struggles by the Indians in the standings, it’s unlikely Lindor would see the big leagues before September. He could, however, provide a spark to the lineup for a stretch run like Jose Ramirez did a year ago or Xander Bogaerts did for the Boston Red Sox. Bogaerts cracked Double-A at just 19 years of age and the big leagues at 20, just like Lindor could this season.
Lindor doesn’t focus on his arrival to the big leagues, but just improving and pushing himself so that whenever he reaches Cleveland, he’s ready to perform.
“I just try to play every day,” Lindor said. “I can’t control (when I progress) what happens. The only thing I can control is what I do on the field.”
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com