Francisco Lindor was born on Nov. 14, 1993. In relative terms, that was 16 weeks before Justin Bieber was born and 20 weeks before Jacobs Field hosted its first official game.
That should provide some helpful context on the combination of elite skills and exciting youth for the 19-year-old Cleveland Indians prospect. After playing in Sunday’s MLB Futures Game in New York City, he’s scheduled to make his Double-A debut tonight for the Akron Aeros.
Lindor will join rarefied air among under-20 players to earn significant playing time at the Double-A level. The last five to do so: Xander Bogearts, Jurickson Profar, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. That’s three All-Stars and two fellow top-10 prospects entering 2013.
Other notable players to pull off the trick in the last several years, per FanGraphs: Jason Heyward (2009), Starlin Castro (2009), Freddie Freeman (2009), Giancarlo Stanton (2009), Elvis Andrus (2008), Justin Upton (2007) and Andrew McCutchen (2006).
Asdrubal Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta, two notable Indians shortstops who became high-tier prospects with their young production in the minors, only played six combined games above High-A before their age-20 seasons 1 .
So yes, what Lindor is about to do over the remainder of 2013 deserves quite the bit of recognition. Now, it’s important to dissect what fans should be expecting over at Canal Park in Akron.
[Related: The Diff: All-Star update on Cleveland Indians prospects]
How he got here
Oddly enough, the Cleveland Indians front office had been balking at the idea of a Lindor promotion as recently as earlier this month.
“Our focus with Francisco is helping him be the best major-league player he can be,” said Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti to the Beacon Journal’s Stephanie Storm two weeks ago. “We don’t want to rush that process. He’s continuing to develop exceptionally well in Carolina and is working through some things there. He’s on a great path where he is now. We couldn’t be more pleased with his development.”
This early July sentiment was despite some impressive production that might have indicated a quick move up to the more challenging Eastern League for the No. 8 pick in the 2011 draft.
“He has asked, as have a lot of the players,” said Dave Wallace, Lindor’s manager for a second year, in Storm’s article. “Every guy down here wants to be Double-A. But part of their learning process is that it’s not always about their batting average. It’s about learning a lot of other nuances of the game. It’s not always number goals, it’s also about things the numbers don’t show.”
According to MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, Lindor has “Lindor B.C.” written on his glove to symbolize “Be Consistent.” His teammates have commended him on that steady approach.
“Aside from his physical abilities, which are far and away some of the best I have ever seen, he’s very good mentally and he stays on an even keel,” said Carolina teammate Joe Wendle to The News-Herald’s Guy Cipriano. “He’s able to separate the good things from the bad things and go pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat and be very consistent.”
Now, it seems the organization is rewarding the young star’s patience, understanding and commitment to improving his all-around game.
“Going up to Double-A means a lot to me,” Lindor said to the Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes. “It means the organization has faith in me. I expect to see better pitching, better umpires, better baseball, better everything.”
[Related: 2013 MLB Draft: Indians look to buck trend with No. 5 pick]
Why he’s so good
“Smooth-swinging switch-hitter has plenty of range and soft hands at shortstop.”
That’s what Baseball America wrote about Lindor in their midseason prospect update, calling him baseball’s No. 5 prospect.
But for folks unfamiliar with the Lindor scouting report, his .278/.360/.376 career minor league line might not strike too many chords on the surface. That’s why it’s necessary to dig more in depth to see where the true value lies.
Obviously, his biggest impact comes on the defensive end. Before the season, he was named by MiLB.com’s Andrew Pentis as the best defensive shortstop prospect in baseball.
“I’m proud of that and pretty confident about my defensive game,” Lindor said to FanGraphs’ David Laurila last October. “I work hard on it and take great pride in it. I try to get better every day. I come out here and get my ground balls and double plays. It’s been a big part of my game since I was little, and it will be for the rest of my career.”
It’s somewhat concerning that he has 18 errors already this year, as many as he had in 2012. These just seem like minor issues however, as he has likely been focusing on a few corrective items this year in High-A. Errors also are a highly speculative monster.
Then, Lindor’s 10.5% strikeout rate in 2013 is especially noteworthy. As of Monday, it ranked 55th out of the 1,340 full-season minor leaguers with at least 150 plate appearances this year.
Lindor’s penchant for not striking out would lead the Indians club as only two current players — Michael Brantley (11.4%) and Mike Aviles (11.8%) — are actually under 17%.
The product of Montverde Academy in Florida also is one of the most patient hitters in the minors. He’s walked 35 times compared to his 39 strikeouts, a phenomenal sign for his young age. This is a transferable skill set that will serve him well in his adjustment to more advanced levels.
While he’s great at contact and not making bad outs, Lindor’s future power potential remains a long-term question mark. At only 5-foot-11 and 175-lbs, he doesn’t have the biggest of frames to still develop. He has just seven home runs in 960 career minor league plate appearances.
“Even if that [power development] doesn’t happen, he projects as a plus defensive shortstop who posts very high OBPs and steals 20-30 bags a year, a likely All-Star at a position where most teams are desperate for anyone who can catch the ball,” wrote ESPN.com’s Keith Law before the season in rating Lindor as baseball’s No. 7 prospect.
Yet, Lindor’s slugging actually has been a slight improvement thus far in 2013. He has 25 combined doubles and triples this year after only busting out 27 last season.
His plus speed, patience and contact ability could allow him to be a mini-Manny Machado: a season with 35-40 doubles and 8-10 triples isn’t out of the question at some point in his career.
So does ESPN’s Jim Bowden’s comparison of Lindor to Hall of Famer Barry Larkin seem legit? Not really. Larkin slugged .444 with a 116 OPS+ in his MLB career, plus an outstanding total of 441 doubles and 939 walks. Again, he was a Hall of Famer. Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins also is in the same boat with his career production — the 2007 MVP award and 439 doubles, albeit a 97 OPS+.
More commonly, scouts see a better-offense, slightly-worse-defense version of Texas’ Elvis Andrus. Lindor, who has been an even better rated prospect, has compared himself regularly to Andrus, a 24-year-old with a career .270/.337/.343 line with an 80 OPS+). But this example should help to temper the lofty offensive expectations of some of the other common comparisons.
[Related: Francisco Lindor could be MLB’s top prospect by end of 2013]
Where he’ll go next
Could the excitement be too high for Francisco Lindor right now? It’s possible, as he still has played only 210 minor league games and is only a few months older than the Tribe’s stadium.
Of course, baseball prospects are never guaranteed to be major league stars either – just ask Matt LaPorta, Beau Mills, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, Adam Miller, Dan Denham or the countless other Indians examples in the last decade-plus.
But if there’s one thing that the shortstop has proved, it’s that he’ll be ready for the moment.
“With Francisco, it’s this awareness that stands out about him,” said Indians farm director Ross Atkins to Stephanie Storm back in January during the team’s Winter Development Program. “We’ve talked for a long time about his professional maturity, his discipline, his commitment. Obviously, the ability’s there. But the awareness in this environment and this setting, seeing him interact with Yan Gomes or an older player or asking a question to Terry Francona [ed. note: related tweet from MLB.com's Jordan Bastian]. The questions he’s asking and the responses he has, it just increases our confidence that his awareness is right where it should be for an elite professional athlete, let alone one at his age.”
If there’s one guarantee that should be laid out for what’s to come next, it’s that Lindor won’t sniff the major leagues until at least mid-June 2014. By that time, the Indians will have delayed his arrival onto the arbitration table until winter 2017, let alone free agency until winter 2020.
For now, Lindor’s play will dictate the speed by which he is moved up to Triple-A Columbus. The emphasis points remain the same for his development to being a long-term MLB starter: Show some signs of power, tighten up the defensive consistency and be yourself.
“I’m focused on playing Double-A baseball,” Lindor said in a recent video with Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi. “That’s what I’m doing, that’s the main goal that I have right now is just to play Double-A baseball at its best every single day, day in and day out, and being the best teammate, the best family member and the best citizen.”
As currently constructed and exemplified on the Carolina League diamonds, Francisco Lindor is a bonafide superstar prospect – albeit one with a sensationally high development floor. He should be a thrill to watch as he moves to playing within 35 miles of Cleveland. We’ll all be waiting.
Photo: MLB’s Facebook page
Defined as the player’s age as of July 1.