AFL Spotlight: Francisco Lindor
The “AFL Spotlight” is a weekly feature piece on a player from the Cleveland Indians farm system that is participating in the Arizona Fall League. League play wraps up on November 15th. Here are the previous 2014 spotlight pieces on other Indians players: Grant Sides, Louis Head, Nick Maronde and Jordan Smith
The countdown is on.
At some point during the 2015 season, Indians shortstop and top prospect Francisco Lindor will make his long awaited Major League debut.
Lindor, who turns 21 on Friday, has been the Indians top prospect since the day he was selected in the first round of the 2011 Draft out of high school and will carry that designation into next year for a fourth straight season. His rise up the minor league ranks has been swift and he looks just about ready to impact next year on the big league stage.
Lindor is looking forward to the opportunity.
“Of course. I have been looking forward to that shot since day one,” Lindor said. “That is what every player dreams of to make it to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues. I am excited and I can’t wait. It will be a fun 2015.”
At the moment, another top shortstop prospect Jose Ramirez has hold of the reigns at shortstop in Cleveland after his inspiring play last season. He was the Indians regular shortstop down the stretch after Asdrubal Cabrera was traded at the end of July, and he responded well hitting .262 with 2 HR, 17 RBI, 10 stolen bases and .646 OPS in 68 total games. He played better once he moved into a starting role and really surprised with some solid play at shortstop.
“He can play,” Lindor said about his good friend Ramirez. “He is a great player. I have never doubted him and he has always been a great infielder.”
While Ramirez has emerged at shortstop, he has only clouded the future shortstop picture a little. The long term view is Lindor moving into the position at some point next season with Ramirez moving to another position or into another role. But in the short term, barring injury, Ramirez will be the Indians regular shortstop to start next season.
September has always been a good time for the team to get all the Major League firsts out of the way for some of their prospects, but with the team in contention and with the way Ramirez was playing there was no opportunity for Lindor to get a promotion to Cleveland at the end of the season. That was a mild surprise as many felt he would get a chance to break that proverbial Major League ice and get his feet wet so that he is ready to go at the outset of next season.
Lindor’s struggles at Triple-A Columbus also did not help. After hitting .278 with 6 HR, 48 RBI, 25 stolen bases and .741 OPS in 88 games at Double-A Akron, Lindor was promoted to Columbus in July. His stop in Columbus was expected to be brief, but after hitting .273 with 5 HR, 14 RBI and .695 OPS in 38 games, it showed he needed a little more polish before the Indians could take their shiny new hot rod for a spin.
Lindor was disappointed that he was not called up in September, but understands why he was not and will use it as motivation going forward.
“It didn’t happen as I guess I didn’t do my job to make them feel like I could be part of the team to help them win,” Lindor noted. “It is not about me. They felt Jose was doing a great job and he helped them win. If he is helping the Indians win why would they change that? I respect their decision and the only thing I can do is work my ass off and try to be the best player I can be that way I can be in that situation one day so they can feel like ‘he is ready and can help us win.’ At the end of the day that is all that matters.”
The minor hiccup in Columbus may turn out to be a good thing. He went through some adversity for really the first time in his pro career as he lost himself at the plate a little bit by striking out an unusual high amount of the time and not walking as much as he normally does. He has always been a guy who walked around 10-12% of the time but he only walked 5.0% of the time in Columbus, and he has always been one to strike out around 10-15% of the time but that climbed to 20% in Columbus.
“I feel like I got better in everything,” Lindor said. “I got better in every aspect of the game. The only thing I dropped was my average because I struck out more. If I would have struck out 20-30 less times it would have gone up, and I would have gotten on base. It was just a learning year. I definitely should not have had all of the strikeouts I had this year. It is something I will get over. It is just one hump. My whole life I have been through adversity and I have been overcoming it every single year, so I am not going to let that slow me down.”
The plate discipline issues in just 38 games at Columbus are but a distraction to the real progress he made last season. Overall, it was a good developmental year for him. The focus was about continuing his progression up through the system to be ready to take over at shortstop in Cleveland for a majority of the 2015 season. His maturation both physically and mentally last year along with his improved play has him on target to meet that goal.
The final hurdle for Lindor is to get a little more experience against higher level competition and bring more consistency to his game.
“Just be consistent, that’s it,” Lindor stated. “If I am consistent I am capable of doing anything. I just have to be consistent with it and do everything I do every single day. Do it today and do it tomorrow and do it the next day. I can’t do it today and forget about it for a whole week like I was in Lake County. Right now I am doing it today and maybe I won’t do it the next at bat then I will do it the next two at bats. I need to do it every single at bat and every pitch. I am close.”
Consistency is what separates players from the minor leagues and big leagues. Any player can have a great game on any given night or a good stretch of play for a week, but few can be consistent in their work, approach and mindset over the course of a 162-game season, 600+ plate appearances and 1000+ innings.
“I am not trying to be great every game,” Lindor said. “Good repeatedly becomes great and that is just what I am trying to do every single day. Work for perfection. I know I am not going to be perfect, but if I do good things every single day then by the end of my career I will be great.”
Lindor is currently out in the Arizona Fall League where he has been playing regular as the starting shortstop for the Peoria Javelinas. In 24 games out in Arizona he is hitting .265 with 3 HR, 9 RBI and .753 OPS. Most importantly, while the sample size is small, his plate discipline has been much better with a 7.4% walk rate and 12.4% strikeout rate.
Lindor has been itching to play winter ball in Puerto Rico, but it does not appear that will be in the cards once again this offseason.
“I want to play,” Lindor said when asked about playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. “I have been wanting to play but unfortunately I haven’t had the shot. This year I would have played, but the Indians felt this was the better thing for me to do right now. I had the option; however, this is what they feel is the best thing so I came here. I just want to become a better player and have fun. That’s what I came here for.”
It has been a long year for Lindor so he is due to get some much needed rest, which is a big reason he stayed in the states to play fall ball in Arizona. The schedule and playing time is not as grueling in the AFL, and the short season is just enough to whet the appetite of the Indians desire to get him more experience against higher competition without overexposing him.
As the Indians embark on an important offseason with several decisions to be made with the roster going into and during next season, Lindor may be the final piece that helps put the Indians over the top when he arrives next season.
“I would hope,” Lindor said. “I feel like I am ready. If they feel I am not ready then I am not ready, but in my mind I am ready. I want to play and help the Indians win and help them continue to do great things, which they have been doing lately. I just want to be a part of it. Every player that wears the Indian on their chest wants to get there and help them win.”
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Just read the tribe may be interested in Ubaldo. Any chance you see a Swisher or Bourn for Ubaldo swap? We may be eating an extra year of essentially the same contract, but Ubaldo's at got the potential for a much larger rebound under Callaway. Besides, we really only have 7 SP options, There's definitely room for him.