The time has come. The future is now.
It’s Francisco Lindor time in Cleveland.
The much-anticipated call that many Indians fans have been clamoring for was made Saturday night, as news broke via social media that Cleveland would promote its top prospect Lindor from Triple-A Columbus in time for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Tigers. Lindor received the word of his new destination during a rain delay in the Clippers’ Saturday evening contest.
The move has been a long time coming and has tested the patience of many fans of the feather as the shortstop play this season, both at the plate and in the field, had left something to be desired in terms of productivity.
The decision to add Lindor and his many talents to the roster follows the surprise demotion less than one week ago of Jose Ramirez, who “won” the job out of Spring Training. With Ramirez, the team had an upgrade with the glove and on the bases over Asdrubal Cabrera, who was dealt prior to hitting free agency in 2014 to Washington. Ramirez knew his stay would be short with Lindor nipping at his heels in Columbus to start the season.
The poor play from Ramirez was easy to overlook during April, when it seemed that anyone not named Michael Brantley looked lost at the plate. He had hit just .080 in his first three weeks of action last season when he was called up to replace the injured Jason Kipnis, so a slow start seemed reasonable by comparison.
But even with a more extended look than the one he got in the early portions of last year, his slump at the plate carried all the way through last weekend and cost him much needed playing time. At the time of his demotion, he was hitting .180 with a .247 on-base percentage. His ability to use his speed to alter a game, highlighted by eight stolen bases in nine attempts, was handcuffed by his inability to get on the bases safely and consistently.
The defensive side of his game, thought to be a substantial upgrade over Cabrera in the meantime while waiting for Lindor to blossom, could not keep up either. After posting a .983 fielding percentage with four errors in 56 games at short last season, he made eight errors in 46 games for a .948 mark. His range factor per game (3.15) dropped by nearly one full play made per game (4.13 per game at short in 2014) and was well below the league average thus far this season (4.04). His eight errors place him fourth in the American League in quantified mistakes.
While many fans will have the belief of a savior lumped on the switch-hitting Lindor, it is an unrealistic expectation to place on the top prospect. Regardless, Lindor will be an almost immediate upgrade and should make the Indians better. When looking organizationally at the top 25 players on the club, Lindor is in that mix, right now, and with no one player able to hold down the shortstop position, he deserves the chance he has been waiting for.
The promotion adds the Indians to a long list of teams bringing the future into the present a little earlier than anticipated.
Lindor, the eighth overall pick in the June 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, is just 21 years old, but has steadily climbed through the minor league system and up the prospects rating lists composed by MLB.com, Baseball America, and BaseballProspectus.com. On MLB’s 2015 Prospect Watch, he was ranked third, following Minnesota’s Byron Buxton and Houston’s Carlos Correa.
The Twins announced prior to their game on Saturday that Buxton, the second pick of the 2012 draft and the number one overall rated prospect by many, would be promoted for their game Sunday. The 21-year-old outfielder will be making the jump from Double-A Chattanooga and is expected to start in their game against the Texas Rangers. He was hitting .283 with six homers and 37 RBI in 59 games for the Lookouts. The move is made in hopes to inject some offense into the second place Twins’ lineup.
The Astros debuted Correa, just 20 years old and the first pick of the same draft class, on June 8th, three years and a day after drafting him and flying him through the farm system. He already has a pair of homers under his belt, but is struggling some at the plate, striking out at least once in each of his first five games while hitting .263.
Houston, also looking to add to their offense to maintain their hold of the top spot in the AL West, pushed their shortstop quickly through the minors. He played just 29 games for Double-A Corpus Christi, hitting .385 with a .459 on-base percentage there with seven homers, 15 doubles, and 32 RBI in 29 games, before being moved up to Triple-A Fresno. For the Grizzlies, he hit .276 in his first 24 games at that level, knocking in a dozen runs with three homers and six more doubles in less than a month with the club.
“I think he’s one of the 25 best players in our organization right now. We should have the 25 best players on the Major League roster so that we can give ourselves the best chance to win,” Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters when discussing his decision to promote Correa.
The same looks to apply now on the Cleveland roster, despite comments from Indians manager Terry Francona during their trip through Kansas City a week and a half ago.
“Lindor is not ready. He’s really not,” Cleveland’s skipper reported following the June 4th game against the Royals. “He’s a little beat up physically, too. He’s doing okay. He’s 21 years old and sometimes he shows it. That’s okay. That’s normal. We knew that. That’s why he’s where he is, learning to get better.”
Texas brought up hard-hitting third baseman Joey Gallo from the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders on June 2nd, ten days shy of three years after signing the late first round pick. He split last year between High-A and Double-A, hitting 42 homers and driving in 106 runs combined between the two levels. He got the call up to the Rangers after starting this season with a .314 average, .425 on-base percentage, nine home runs, and 31 RBI in 34 games for Frisco.
His move has paid off, so far, as the 21-year-old homered in each of his first two MLB games and again on Saturday afternoon. He is hitting .306 after ten games with a .405 on-base percentage, three homers, and six RBI.
The Cubs started what would become a growing trend in mid-April, when they brought up highly-touted slugging third baseman Kris Bryant. The demotion of the 23-year-old at the end of spring camp, said to allow him more time to work in the field defensively, made tidal waves across the league after he mashed nine homers in the spring and caused a call for changes for the rules and regulations surrounding
The Cubs were criticized for not starting the season with their best 25 men on the roster, a questionable call after spending freely in free agency and pulling Joe Maddon away from the Tampa Bay Rays to captain their refurbished ship. It was far more likely that the move was based on the potential financial implications it might have had on their ability to retain the former second overall pick of the 2013 draft’s rights at a slightly more reasonable cost for an additional year, preventing him from earning additional days of service time that could have cost the club a year of control.
He entered Saturday’s rain-slowed game with the Cincinnati Reds with a .287 average, seven homers, and 35 RBI through his first 51 games. Another top prospect, 21-year-old converted second baseman Addison Russell, joined him from the minors on April 21st and is hitting .245.
As for Lindor, he has had his ups and downs this season, but has played his best baseball of late, making the decision to promote him now that much more palatable. It was thought that the pressures of not making the team in the spring and having to fight his way from Columbus to Cleveland may have been putting more strain on him, but the recent play suggests that, if that were an issue, it is an issue of the past. He also has dealt with several minor injuries throughout the early portion of the minor league schedule.
His slow start took some of the pressure off of the club, often critiqued for its financial limitations, and their possible unwillingness to promote the prospect and deal with the ramifications of the move in future contract negotiations.
Lindor appeared in 57 games for the Clippers in his second stint at the Triple-A level, batting .279 with a .346 on-base percentage with a pair of homers, eleven doubles, five triples, and 22 RBI. He stole eight bases in 15 opportunities. He hit .273 in 38 games in a partial season with the club in 2014, hitting four doubles and five home runs while driving in 14 after his promotion from Double-A Akron.
He started this season slowly, hitting .191 over his first 13 games. But after hitting .625 (10-for-18) in the club’s series with the Louisville Bats, that mark jumped to .302. Starting May 8th, he began a ten-game hitting streak during which time he hit .378 and drove in eight runs. After the four game hitless spell that followed the streak, he has hits in 15 of his last 17 games while batting .333 during the stretch, not including his leadoff single in a suspended game on May 31st. He has reached base safely in 17 straight games and is hitting .389 during his active eight-game hitting streak.
He will wear the number 12 for the Tribe and will pair with his good friend on the left side of the infield, Giovanny Urshela, who was just called up this past week to replace the slumping incumbent, Lonnie Chisenhall, at third base.
He will become the 23rd player from his draft class to make it to the Majors. Five of the seven players drafted ahead of him have made it to the Bigs already, including new teammate Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick that season by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lindor will be the third highest of the high school players selected to make it (Dylan Bundy, Baltimore; Archie Bradley, Arizona), and will become the highest high school position player to reach the MLB from the 2011 class.
The time that so many have anticipated is upon us, but remember to keep the expectations reasonable, recognize that there will be bumps in the road, and enjoy the ride.
It’s Francisco Lindor’s time to shine. The young star will hopefully shine over Cleveland for a long time.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer