In 2015, Francisco Lindor set the bar pretty high for himself. Expected to be a wizard with the glove and perhaps a work in progress at the plate, Lindor shined in the field as expected while delivering some unexpected pop with his bat. He finished second behind Houston’s Carlos Correa in a close American League Rookie of the Year race.
In his first season, Frankie flashed the glove work of a player destined to win multiple Gold Glove Awards. At the plate, where some though he might be merely a little above average, he showed he could hit much better than that. He hit .313 with 12 home runs, 51 RBI and stole 12 bases in as impressive a debut season as the Indians have seen in quite some time. He helped spark a moribund offense with a new brand of excitement and enthusiasm and was a big reason Cleveland turned its season around and was in Wild Card contention in the final two weeks of the year.
Perhaps, if Lindor had been called to the Major Leagues a little sooner, he may have just over taken his fellow shortstop and rookie for the Astros for the AL’s top first-year player prize. He certainly set the bar high for his second big league campaign.
As spring training was getting underway this past February, some wondered if Lindor could deliver just as impressive an encore act. No doubt he was going to continue to make plays in the field that most players can only dream of. There was little doubt he would continue to fly around the bases, sometimes with reckless abandon. However, the lingering question remained as to whether or not he would continue to hit at the high level that entrenched him at the top of Tribe manager Terry Francona‘s batting order a season ago. He was locked in as the club’s number two batter by season’s end.
Lindor was, after all, a guy who hit .279 in 97 Triple-A games and .288 overall in parts of five minor league seasons. When the Indians drafted him out of high school with the eighth pick of the 2011 Amateur Draft, it was for his slick fielding more so than his bat. He was compared to Omar Vizquel, the great shortstop who spent much of his career and his best seasons in a Tribe uniform. Vizquel was one of the all-time great fielders. With a bat, he was solid, but nothing special, and could steal bases.
As this 2016 season approaches the end of its second month, Lindor is showing that he may actually be something a little more special the people thought with a bat in his hand. In the field, he is continuing to make plays that put spectators in sheer awe on a nearly nightly basis. He may well be on his way to Gold Glove number one this year. He has also remained a nightmare for opposing teams on the base paths. He has eight steals in nine attempts. Everyone knew he continue to prosper in those two areas of his game.
Where Lindor has really turned it on, especially of late, is swinging the bat. He leads the team’s regulars with a .327 batting average. Hitting mostly out of the two or three spot of the lineup, he has been a run producer, driving in 19 and scoring 28 in 40 contests. He has three home runs so far, roughly a 12-homer pace. He is not expected to be a power hitter. His dozen dingers a season ago in a shorter time was a surprise not something expected to be grown upon.
Lindor’s strengths as a hitter were always being a good contact guy and someone who could get on base. He has simply done that at a better clip in the Majors than any other stop he has made in his bush league career.
Over the past week, Lindor has been the hottest hitter in the Tribe lineup and has swung as good a bat as anyone in the Majors, short of Boston’s streaking Jackie Bradley, Jr. Cleveland’s 22-year-old phenom entered Saturday’s road game against Bradley’s Red Sox with a five-game hitting streak, one that ended with an 0-for-4 at the plate. It was a modest streak, except when considering that Frankie had multiple hits in each of those affairs. From Monday to Wednesday, Lindor had three consecutive three-hit games and followed that with a pair of two-hit games on Thursday and Friday. Quite the week. It extends back a little further as Lindor actually has two more two-hit games to extend that streak to seven of his last eight games after Friday’s contest.
In that eight-game surge, Lindor raised his batting average from a solid .293 to the exceptional state it is now.
To those who worried before the season about a sophomore slump for the player who is fast becoming the new face of the Indians franchise, those fears can be put to rest. There will be no return trip to Columbus for the budding star. Unlike some players who come up, do well, struggle and need seasoning, it seems Lindor is seasoned at such an early age. On June 14, he will hit the one-year mark of his Major League debut and is not looking back.
With Lindor, it is safe to look forward. Instead of questions about whether he could hit, he is now hitting .319 in 139 career games, almost a full season. Questions may now center around just how far he can go. It is very possible Lindor could be booking his first of multiple trips to MLB’s All-Star Game. If the players were picked now, he would be a near lock for the Midsummer Classic.
On a team level, Lindor has continued to ignite the Indians offense. Like its young shortstop, the rest of Cleveland’s lineup has taken off this week. Friday’s 4-2 win seemed almost like a letdown after the Tribe plated five or more – double digits twice – in the eight games prior. As Lindor has gotten hot, so to has the Tribe offense. Lindor has helped to carry Cleveland into second place in the AL Central Division with a look of a squad that could be a team with real playoff potential this summer.
What Lindor has done has been especially important as Cleveland’s star outfielder Michael Brantley has missed most of the year following offseason shoulder surgery. Brantley could be out a little while, placing more onus on the shoulders of the Tribe’s young offensive spark plug. Lindor’s shoulders appear up to the challenge, so far.
Lindor is showing that his first act could indeed be followed up with a splendid encore performance. With those questions in the past, Tribe fans can now look forward to watching one of the more exciting players in the game for a good number of years to come.
Photo: Tony Dejak/Associated Press