Celebrating One Year of Francisco Lindor

It’s hard to believe that only one year ago Tuesday, Francisco Lindor made his much-anticipated debut at Comerica Park in the seventh inning of a lopsided game against the Tigers. After striking out in his first at bat pinch-hitting for David Murphy, he later had a memorable first hit with a single to right and a trip to the dirt after he lost his balance near Miguel Cabrera in the ninth inning of an 8-1 loss to Detroit.

Since then, he has continued to impress in the field, surprise with the bat, and delight baseball fans with his infectious smile and his clear love and passion for the national pastime.

It’s hard to think of another rookie to grace the Cleveland sports landscape who not only came in highly touted, but also lived up to all of the hype. Is LeBron James the last?

Lindor is, in many ways, the face of the Indians franchise, even with players more accomplished and more experienced on the field with him on a nightly basis. Even on a roster with the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, and that year’s third place finisher in the AL Most Valuable Player voting, Michael Brantley, and several other beloved athletes like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Carrasco, and Yan Gomes in tow, Lindor is the man when it comes to overall talent in an Indians uniform.

He took home a second place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting for his nearly four months of play for Cleveland in 2015 and, by many accounts, was deserving of the hardware outright. His bat has translated at a higher average than expected, his swing has packed an impressive amount of pop in it (especially given his build), he has the speed to make an impact on the base paths, he is fully capable of dropping down one of his many loathed sacrifice bunts (a rarity this season, to cheers of many), and his glove and arm work are more a piece of magic, of wizardry.

And he’s done it all by the age of 22.

The young switch-hitting shortstop made his first start last season on June 16th against the Chicago Cubs and eventual National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, no easy task over the last couple of seasons. He drove in his first career run with a fifth inning single of the future award winner and added a second base hit in the ninth off of the Chicago bullpen, capping off his first full nine inning game with a pair of hits.

Hitting consistently at the top of the lineup, the young star did struggle initially last year, with his average hovering around the .200 mark in the games just before and just after the 20-game marker of his young career. Hitting .215 on game 20, he boosted that mark to .265 over his next 20 games by hitting nearly 100 points higher for that stretch (.313).

After a .211 mark in June and .295 average in July, he only managed to hit .370 (!) in August as the Indians suddenly burst back onto the playoff scene. He ended his debut season strong, hitting .325 in the final month with a season-high nine doubles, all four of his triples for the year, five homers, and 20 RBI in 31 games.

Not a bad effort for a prospect described at the beginning of the season as having “a litany of things” to work on…

He finished the year with a .313 batting average, .353 on-base percentage, 22 doubles, four triples, a dozen homers, and 51 RBI. His pace of recording hits (122 in 99 games) would have equated to 200 over a 162-game schedule.

Lindor has excelled at the game’s top level and has remained one of the up-and-coming stars on the Major League Baseball scene again this season. With a strong crop of shortstops in baseball, especially in the AL, his name may not get nearly as much of the attention that it deserves. He is nowhere to be found in the All-Star voting despite completing highlight reel plays defensively on a nightly basis.

Houston’s Carlos Correa, the man who claimed the Rookie of the Year from him in 2015, is often credited as being better, but once that hype machine is turned off, the numbers make a compelling argument that the eighth pick of the 2011 draft Lindor, less than two months older than the first overall pick in 2012 Correa, may be the more well-rounded player.

Through 62 games in the 2016 season, Lindor is hitting an even .300 with a .358 OBP and .444 slugging for an .802 OPS. He has 73 hits for the year, including 12 doubles, a triple, seven homers, and 33 RBI. For good measure, he is 10-for-11 stealing bases. He grades out with a 2.7 WAR on fangraphs.com, third-best among AL shortstops (trailing Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Baltimore’s Manny Machado) and tenth-best out of all AL position players. His offensive runs above average is 8.2 and defensive runs above average is 8.7.

In 61 games, Correa is batting .256 with a .351 OBP, .423 slugging, and .774 OPS. He has 60 hits on the season, including nine doubles, three triples, eight homers, and 32 RBI. He has stolen eight bases in eleven attempts. His WAR at Fangraphs is 1.2, with an OFF of 5.4 and a DEF of -2.8.

While there is no clear cut winner and it is much too early, both in this season and in their respective careers, to crown a victor, one thing is certain – the Indians have a potential star on their hands in Lindor.

Tuesday night will mark the 162nd game in Lindor’s career. He will bring his accumulated numbers – a .308 batting average, .355 on-base percentage, .468 slugging percentage, 195 hits (including 34 doubles, five triples, and 19 homers), 84 runs batted in, 90 runs scored, and 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts – with him into action against the Kansas City Royals while his Indians continue to fight off all challengers for their current stake in the American League Central Division title.

Those number? Not bad for a full season of play. Not bad at all.

Now just imagine what the future holds for the young man, who will not turn 23 for another five months, and his Indians club. It may be as big and bright as his ever-present smile.

Photo: Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

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