GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Indians minor-league shortstop Francisco Lindor made an impression the first day he reported to the Single-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers and it had nothing to do with his bat, glove or feet.
Rather, it was the way he hoisted two heavy bags of his teammates’ laundry onto his shoulders and carried them to the team bus.
It was 2011 and Lindor was already somewhat of a star, ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect and third-highest position player in the draft. But the fact that the Indians selected him eighth overall did not go to his head.
Dave Wallace, the Double-A RubberDucks manager this season, held the same post then at Mahoning Valley at the time and still recounts the day clearly.
“You throw everything in big, huge laundry bags, with the trainer, pack up all the stuff and load up the bus and he’s right there helping,” Wallace said of Lindor on Thursday at Goodyear Ballpark. “Some guys take their time and let the other guys get it done. From Day One he’s been the guy that is helping. He puts the team in front of himself. That’s pretty special.”
Attending his first major-league camp, Lindor continues to show how special he could be.
He came through with two game-winning hits in a span of four days, both off Seattle Mariners right-hander Danny Farquhar. On Sunday in Goodyear, he unleashed a three-run homer in a 6-3 triumph. On Wednesday in Peoria, Ariz., Lindor’s pinch-hit RBI double in the ninth inning sparked the Tribe to an 8-5 victory.
Lindor, 20, is on the verge of the big leagues, with Triple-A Columbus a possible destination to start the season. Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is in the final year of his contract and Lindor has been Cabrera’s heir apparent since the day he joined the Indians. But now with the switch-hitting Lindor batting .333 (3-for-9) through eight games, Lindor is not just knocking at the door, he’s practically crossing the threshold.
“We’re human. We always think big leagues,” Lindor said. “That’s the dream. That’s what you want to do when you play professional baseball — to be in the big leagues and win championships.
“There’s a lot of people out there, media, family, friends, teammates, even your head sometimes [saying], ‘I think I can do it. I think I can do it.’ You’ve always got that little voice and people always telling you things. You just have to learn how to deal with it.”
Lindor’s main teacher in that regard has been Wallace, whom Lindor calls his baseball “dad.” Wallace has been with Lindor every step of the way except for the 21 games he played in Double-A last season before a back injury shut him down.
“In the evenings, he’s always talking to me. We’ve got a great relationship,” Lindor said of Wallace, 34. “He’s always giving me advice about life, baseball. It’s fun talking to him. He’s a young guy. He gets it. He knows what we’re going through because he went through it.”
Wallace said he does not try to squelch his players’ desires to move up, but wants them to walk a fine line and remain focused.
“The trick is ‘Is that what you’re focusing on day in and day out?’ ” Wallace said. “If that’s his focus, he’s going to lose sight of that preparation, that work ethic he’s been so good with. We’ve talked, ‘You’re preparing to be the best major-league player and help the Cleveland Indians win a World Series one day.’ ”
Indians manager Terry Francona also knows the drumbeat for Lindor’s promotion is getting louder, especially with Cabrera’s name continually coming up in trade rumors.
“The player’s play dictates how fast they get to the major leagues,” Francona said. “You don’t want it to be specific needs. If you’re that bare where you have a need and you rush somebody, that’s not developing, that’s getting them beat up.
“Lindor, right now defensively, he can play with anybody. He could probably keep his head above water offensively. I don’t think that’s the goal. The goal is for him to impact the game, on the bases, in the batter’s box. Guys are still learning their routines, their swings. Every level you move up there’s the need to make more adjustments. That’s why you don’t see guys skipping levels too much.”
Lindor said he can’t worry about when his time will come and tries to enjoy the journey.
“I give it my all … and get there as fast as I can,” Lindor said. “Once I’m in the field, I’m thinking about winning.”
Even when he does make the majors, Wallace doesn’t expect Lindor’s team-first attitude to change.
“I hope one day soon he’s not carrying his own laundry and everybody else’s, but he’s willing to do it and that’s what makes him who he is,” Wallace said. “That’s a special part of who he is.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.