Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 12: Francisco Lindor

As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.

Countdown to Opening Day – 12 days

What can Francisco Lindor do for an encore?

That is the big question the Cleveland Indians second-year shortstop faces after a superb rookie campaign in 2015.

Lindor, who had high expectations placed upon him the moment he was drafted eighth overall by the Tribe in 2011 amateur draft, finally got the chance to show his stuff in a call to the Majors last June. That he showed off a flashy glove and range at the position akin to what Indians fans saw from the great Omar Vizquel was to be expected. The 22-year-old also showed he can carry a very good bat and be a force near the top of manager Terry Francona‘s batting order.

Before Lindor’s debut on June 14, Houston rookie and fellow shortstop Carlos Correa was highly expected to win the American League Rookie of the Year trophy. By season’s end, that nearly foregone conclusion was put into serious doubt by the Tribe’s first-season sensation.

Lindor ended up hitting .313 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI. He stole 12 bases in 14 attempts. The numbers on the base paths and the fact the rookie shined defensively were not surprises. The power numbers were impressive for a player who was not known for being a real big bopper in the minor leagues. As it stood, Cleveland’s budding star finished just seven homers shy of team leader Carlos Santana and was on the big league club for two and a half months less.

The Tribe’s break-out athlete fit in seamlessly by season’s end in the top of the batting order. He found a home batting No. 2, between leadoff man Jason Kipnis and No. 3 guy Michael Brantley. The trio formed one of the better top-thirds of a batting order in all of baseball. With Lindor solidifying the top of the lineup, Cleveland’s 1-2-3 spots in the order, provided Brantley is recovered quickly form offseason should surgery, should continue to kick start an offense that struggled mightily through much of last season’s first half.

Cleveland fans and management can certainly expect Kipnis and Brantley to play at or near All-Star-caliber levels. The question will be whether or not Lindor can keep up and pick up where he left off last season. The Indians are certainly hopeful he can avoid a second-year, sophomore slump.

It is almost unfair to expect Lindor to be as good at the plate as he was last year. In parts of five minor league seasons, he hit .279. His best power output, for a full bush league campaign, was eleven homers and 62 RBI in 2014, splitting time between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus.

Lindor’s offensive prowess in Cleveland almost came out of nowhere. It could have been a case of a young player getting things figure out, however, fans should brace themselves for less prolific numbers than what he put up in his initial Major League showing.

The speed and defense will always be there. His running and bunting should only improve as he becomes a smarter, more-experienced big leaguer. Those are tools that Lindor has always had and should not really take a hit from one season to the next. Those traits, and not the offensive abilities, were the main reasons that the Indians made him such a high draft pick and fans looked forward to seeing him at Progressive Field.

The question heading into Lindor’s second year will be whether he can really hit at a high level in the Majors or if he just caught amazing fire from late-July through last season’s end.

For the sake of Cleveland’s lineup, the answer to that question will hopefully be a resounding yes. The Tribe offense was so much better last year with Lindor hitting well than before the rookie’s arrival.

It is quite possible that Lindor won’t put up the same type of batting average or exhibit 20-home run potential as he did in 2015. However, with his glove and penchant for being able to do good things with his speed while on base, it is imperative that the now second-year Major Leaguer continue to hit at at least a solid clip. If Lindor can bat in the .280 range, where he was in the minors, that would be a strong contribution to the lineup and certainly would allow the top three in the batting order to continue to thrive.

Lindor really just needs to be a table setter for guys like Brantley, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, who should be batting right after him. While a completely stunning all-around performance is not out of the question, it is likely Lindor’s numbers could drop to something more anticipated. Considering how much he exceeded expectations a year ago, a little slippage would be acceptable and still allow Lindor to have a fine second act or encore performance.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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