Big League Ready? Lindor Has Major League Work Ethic and Humility

Last Wednesday afternoon, Francisco Lindor finished batting practice in Altoona, Pa. and looked out across the field as the best players in the Eastern League prepared for their All-Star Game. While he might not admit it, he was the best player on the field.

Lindor, the highest rated prospect in the game, has been an All-Star at every level of the minor leagues he has played in and a three-time selection for the SiriusXM Future’s Game. Since being drafted as the eighth overall selection in the 2011 First Year Player Draft, Lindor has been the Indians’ highest rated prospect—and possibly the most humble and grounded. Lindor was promoted from Double-A Akron after last night’s game to Triple-A Columbus. Now, the switch-hitting shortstop has just one step left in his progression.

“I hope so, we’ll see,” Lindor said when he was asked if he thought this would be his last minor league All-Star game. “I just have to continue to play and be me. I continue to enjoy every single second of the minor leagues. Every time I put on the uniform, I just want to enjoy it. Every time you put on the uniform is one less day that I’ve got.”

How many times Lindor will put on a minor league uniform remains to be seen. Over the next nine days, the Indians will consider many trade options, including trading free-agent-to-be shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. If Cabrera is dealt, Lindor could be promoted to fill the void at shortstop with Mike Aviles for the remainder of the season. If Cabrera leaves this winter via free agency, it’s very likely Lindor is the opening day shortstop for the Indians in 2015, something the Indians don’t do often. Only Sandy Alomar Jr., Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez and Travis Hafner have earned starting spots on the opening day roster for the Tribe in the last 25 years.

Lindor is known to be outstanding defensively, with an above average bat. Some prospect evaluators feel Lindor is big league ready today, while others think his offense could use some more fine-tuning. At just 20-years old, Lindor is one of the youngest players at Triple-A. Whenever he makes the big leagues, he’ll likely still be one of the youngest and despite his youth and on-the-field skills, Lindor is big league ready when it comes to work ethic and humility.

“Every player thinks about how the big leagues will be,” Lindor said. “How will it be when you play in the big leagues? How cool will it be? How blessed will you be? All those things. I try to leave that for the offseason. Right now, I gotta focus on winning the game today and tomorrow I gotta focus on winning the game tomorrow and getting better and keep improving so that when I do get that call—God willing one day—the Indians feel I’m ready and I feel I’m ready for the next level.”

This season Lindor is hitting .281, with six home runs, 48 runs batted in, 51 runs scored and 25 stolen bases at Double-A Akron and is a main reason why the RubberDucks are 57-46 on the year, despite the loss of fellow top prospects, Tyler Naquin and Joe Wendle. Each have been sidelined with broken hands and may not return to action this season. The loss of offensive production may place pressure on some, but instead, Lindor continues to focus on only the things he can control.

“I just continue to do my job,” Lindor said. “I can only do what the game gives me. If there’s nobody on base, I can’t hit a grand slam. I just gotta get on base and make something happen. I just want to help the team however I can.”

Helping the team win and remaining consistent are Lindor’s continuous goals. His Twitter handle, @Lindor12BC, is a reminder to “be consistent.” That consistency and work ethic is what has helped him grow as a professional so quickly. He’s normally one of the first players on the field in the afternoon for batting practice and infield practice and takes every repetition as seriously as the last.

“He’s a stud. Day in and day out, his energy in the locker room, in the clubhouse, outside of the field and on the field, it is always electric,” teammate and RubberDucks relief pitcher Shawn Armstrong said. “That’s what you need from a guy who is your top prospect in your organization. He wants to play, he wants the ball every day. I know day-in and day-out when I’m up there in the eighth or ninth inning, he’s going to play as hard as he can at shortstop to get the job done. He’s a great guy.”

And while Lindor strives to always be consistent, he may also be his biggest critic. Despite another All-Star first half and being one of Major League Baseball’s top 10 prospects, Lindor feels like he was more consistent last year than this year.

“This year, I’m being consistent, I’ve learned and getting better, but last year I was more consistent than this year, day-in and day-out,” Lindor said. “I’m not saying I’m not consistent this year, but compared to last year, I’m not as consistent. I’m getting better and I’m doing what it takes to help the team win and we’re winning, so I’m happy with that. As long as we win, I’m happy.”

Lindor did hit .303 last season, mostly at High-A Carolina in the Carolina League—a league known normally as a pitcher’s league. Despite Lindor’s self-analysis, he has never had a month hitting less than .271 or more than .293 this season. His 2013 was cut short after being promoted to Akron when back pain ended his season in mid-August. This year, he’s used his work ethic to grow physically and be able to endure the grind of a long baseball season. Since becoming a professional, he’s put on 15 lbs. of muscle and it has been noticeable in his production at the plate with improved power.

“That’s been helping me to stay healthy and a little bit stronger throughout the whole year,” Lindor said. “My body is holding up a lot better than last year. I’m happy with the work I put in last offseason. So far, God willing, I’ve stayed healthy and my body will hold up.”

While he’s become strong physically, Lindor has always been strong mentally and a good teammate. Current RubberDucks manager Dave Wallace often reflects on when the 17-year old Lindor was on his first road trip at Short Season-A Mahoning Valley in 2011. As Wallace and other coaches were loading the bus after a game and before a nighttime ride through the highways of the New York-Penn League, he turned around to see Lindor handing him team equipment. Wallace recognized Lindor’s team-focused nature and humility at the infancy of his young career.

“I was never raised like that,” Lindor said. “My family did not come from a lot, but my mom and dad did whatever it took to make sure I was fine in life. That’s one thing though, my mom and dad would never let me get out of line.”

“I thank my dad and my mom every day also,” Lindor said. “They’re the ones that have been keeping me on the right path as a person, as a human being.”

Originally born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Lindor and his family moved to Orlando, Fla. when he was 12-years old in part to give he and his sister a better life and opportunity at success. Lindor attended Monteverde High School, a college preparatory school and strong high school baseball program where he played under Tim Layden, a former standout at Duke University. Lindor turned down a scholarship to Florida State when he elected to sign as a professional with the Indians.

Lindor and Wallace have been closely connected since 2011. Lindor was drafted in June and Wallace received his first minor league managerial assignment the same year at Mahoning Valley.

“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.”

“That leadership role for him comes natural,” Wallace said. “Players follow him because of the player he is but also how hard he works. He loves to laugh but knows when to be serious and to do some work. No one out-works Francisco.”

Wallace, a former catcher in the Indians minor league system, has managed Lindor each season of his career. Wallace has served as a confidant and mentor to Lindor, someone he feels has been instrumental in his development and growth.

“He’s the best,” Lindor said of Wallace. “I’ve been so fortunate to play for him almost my whole career as a professional and I’m so thankful for everything he’s done for me. He’s kept me grounded and in the right mindset, so has Rouglas Odor and Jeff Harris. They’ve been with me almost the entire time and I thank them every day. Every night, I thank the Lord for putting the right people in my life because God has a purpose for everybody. As you progress in life, you are going to find people that are going to take you to the right door for the next step. In my professional career, that coaching staff, has been those three guys. They’re the ones that God has put in my way to take me to the next door. I thank them every day and thank the Lord as well.”

The Lord and the Indians have also provided Lindor with many opportunities to become familiar with the big league staff and players. He’s participated in the organization’s winter development program, spent the weekend with big leaguers during TribeFest and has played in spring training games with the Major League club the last two seasons.

This past spring, Lindor was an official spring invitee. He’s used all of the experiences to learn from the veteran members of the organization and apply it to his game.

“Brantley told me, you have to see how teams are working you and always pick things up, like tendencies that pitchers and catchers have, even tendencies different teams have,” Lindor said. “He told me that last year and I’ve tried to incorporate that into my game ever since.”

When Lindor becomes Brantley’s teammate is still undetermined, but the veteran may serve as no better of a mentor for the youngster when he arrives. In the meantime, Lindor will continue to work, remain humble and strive for consistency while leaving the decision to his promotion up to the Indians’ front office.

“If they feel I’m ready, I’m ready,” Lindor said. “It’s plain and simple. If they think I’m ready, I’m ready. That’s why I leave it up to them because they are the ones that know what is the best time for me.”

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

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