If Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is not careful, he could end up in the debate for American League Rookie of the Year. Actually, since the All-Star break, Lindor has looked more like a seasoned league MVP than a player getting his first taste of Major League Baseball action.
Lindor certainly has more to learn, as any 21-year-old would. However, he seems so far ahead of the game at this stage of his career than most young players. It would be a cherry on top of a nice first year if Lindor could become Cleveland’s first ROY since Sandy Alomar, Jr. in 1990.
One of the youngest players in the Majors, Lindor entered action on Wednesday hitting a fine .306 with seven home runs and 30 RBI. Over the past month, when the Indians have put together rallies, Lindor has seemingly been right in the middle of most of them. He has taken nicely to the number two spot in manager Terry Francona‘s batting order. Nestled in between all-stars Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, Cleveland’s young, budding star certainly has plenty of protection around him.
Some fans and baseball people wondered when or if Lindor would get the opportunity to wear an Indians uniform this season. At the end of spring training, Cleveland management determined he needed more minor league seasoning and had him start this season at Triple-A Columbus. Despite high hopes, it was not a bad decision. Lindor had only had a brief taste of Columbus last season. The Indians have been very careful to not rush a kid they hope can be their next Omar Vizquel, or better.
Taken in the first round, eighth overall, of the 2011 amateur draft, Lindor was just a 17-year-old who had just recently graduated from Montverde High School in Florida. He had a slick glove, a la Vizquel, and could hold his own at the plate. At his age, however, he was not going to be fast-tracked to the Majors.
Still, Lindor was always on the radar of Tribe fans. His speed and agility brought excitement when making great defensive plays in Eastlake, Akron and Columbus. Highlight real plays made fans in Cleveland salivate over seeing him play at Progressive Field.
A lack of quality play at shortstop for that last few years also helped make Indians fans long for the future with Lindor.
The Indians, however, were taking a different approach. They did not want to move along a young player too quickly and have him playing in the big time before he has ready. That has damaged many a bright, young star. Taking a profession field before being ready can destroy a young athlete’s confidence.
Even when the Indians finally did call Lindor up in mid-June, there was some wonder as to whether or not it was really time. He had struggled early in the year with Clippers, partly due to minor injuries. At the time of his call up, he was hitting .284 in 59 games with Columbus. However, the Indians had seen enough of 2014 rookie Jose Ramirez struggling to play shortstop every day in the majors and made the switch.
Lindor struggled early. Compared to Houston Astros exciting rookie shorstop Carlos Correa, Lindor was really having hard time in June and early July. Correa was lighting it up on Day 1 and was all but handed ROY honors by the All-Star break.
At the point of the Mid Summer Classic, there were some who may have wondered if Lindor was in a little over his head and needed a little more minor league time. After Cleveland lost to Oakland on July 12, the rookie was hitting just .223. A second chance for Ramirez seemed to be on the horizon. Of course, just as Cleveland was slow to bring Lindor to the majors, management did not want to ship him out too soon and shake his confidence in that regard, either.
Cleveland stuck with Lindor through the break and has been richly rewarded since. The young player started figuring out Major League pitching after a little time off. Perhaps a bit of a breather was all he really needed.
Lindor has raised his average by 83 points since the break. In August, he has been really hitting the ball. This month his is batting an eye-popping .378 (34 hits in 90 at bats). He has to be a candidate for A.L. Player of the Month honors.
Cleveland’s rookie sensation has solidified the top of the team’s battling lineup. Along with Kipnis and Brantley, the Tribe’s top three in the batting order seems pretty solid for next year and then following several after. The rest of the lineup could be a question mark, but Lindor seems to be in the same breath now as a pair off all stars in terms of guys currently in the every day lineup who are pretty much locks to be there next year. That is pretty heady stuff for a player who has not been in the big leagues for even a quarter of a calendar year.
Of course, Lindor still has some learning to do. He has struggled on the base paths at times. Stealing bases has not come as easy to him as it did in the minors. He has three steals in five tries. He was stealing 20-plus a season in the bush leagues.
Defensively, while Lindor has flashed his glove on some gorgeous plays. However, he has also shown his youth at other times. Despite excellent range and making plays that some guys can only dream of, Lindor has already committed 8 errors and is a little below the league average with a .968 fielding percentage.
Those flaws can be forgiven a young player. No player, not even Mike Trout, is going to come into the game without something to work on. Lindor has been impressive for the last two-plus months. He has certainly shown his time is now and the future at shortstop is here for the Cleveland Indians. If he continues to hit as he has he may be able to supplant Correa as this season’s A.L. ROY. In the minds of some, he already has. The final month of 2015 should be fun to watch, as far as that goes. The next 15 years could be fun to watch Lindor do his thing, hopefully all in an Indians uniform.
Photo: Tony Dejak/Associated Press