CLEVELAND: Shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor is the star of the group in this year’s Indians Winter Development Program, but you’d never know it listening to him speak.
The way Lindor, 19, carries himself during an interview, deferring to the other players participating in the program, nonchalantly talking up their abilities when a question was originally asked about his, speaks volumes for Lindor’s maturity and natural humility.
“With Francisco, it’s this awareness that stands out about him,” Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. “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 [catcher] Yan Gomes or an older player or asking a question to [Indians manager] Terry Francona. 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.”
It’s one of the reasons Lindor was recently chosen by Baseball America as the Indians’ No. 1 prospect heading into the season for the second consecutive year, despite a so-so offensive season in his first full year in the minor leagues.
Lindor started his career as one of the youngest players in low Class A. He started strong offensively but began to struggle in the middle of the season, fighting his way though fatigue and making adjustments.
The Indians’ first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2011 draft out of Florida’s Montverde Academy, Lindor finished the season at Lake County batting .257 with 24 doubles, three triples, six home runs and 44 RBI. He also stole 28 bases in 40 attempts.
Learning from last season, the 5-foot-11 Lindor said he’s gained 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason and is up to 185 pounds.
“After wearing down physically last year, I wanted to get stronger,” he said. “That’s one thing that will help me.”
Another is learning to adjust to pitchers after they have made adjustments to him.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t have to make any adjustments,” Lindor said. “Pitchers didn’t know me so I just rolled. Then the pitchers got smart and made an adjustment by throwing off-speed pitches, working me in, working me away. Always throwing something to different spots. I tried to make adjustments, but they weren’t working.”
It took awhile, but Lindor finally realized something he hopes will help him this season.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m just going to go up there, stick to an approach and execute.’ I was trying to guess what they were going to do to me and was trying too much. Like, there’s a guy on second base and I’m trying to hit a home run in the gap. Instead of just doing my thing.
“With a guy on third base, just hit a ground ball, put the ball in play and sacrifice. I was doing too much and coming out of my approach.”
Although there are physical skills to refine in Lindor’s game, Atkins said he’s already shown a penchant for handling the mental part of the game.
“The biggest thing for [Lindor] will be dealing with external and his own expectations of himself, not creating a time frame. And then in his supreme confidence of wanting to be the guy and potentially trying to do too much.
“That’s very cliché, but very real. With a player with that type of pedigree who has his own expectations for himself and wants to be the guy who comes through for the team, he’s a team player. And he’ll be a team player no matter what team he’s playing for, it doesn’t have to be the Cleveland Indians. Handling that will be the biggest limitation for him and understanding short-term versus long term.”
Helping push Lindor externally is a young crop of shortstops in the organization.
In addition to Lindor, free-agent Latin American signees Ronny Rodriguez (who batted .264 at high Class-A Carolina last season) and Dorssys Paulino (who started the season in June in the rookie-level Arizona League but finished in the short-season New York-Penn League, where he more than held his own) and the Tribe’s third-round pick in 2010, Tony Wolters are in the Tribe’s farm system.
In an effort to help solve the logjam at short, the Indians had Wolters and Rodriguez split last season between shortstop and second base, helping diversify them with an added position.
But if there’s any animosity among the group with so many young guys vying for one major-league spot, Lindor isn’t complaining.
“This is a great group of guys,” he said. “They are great people, and that’s the most important thing. They are good teammates, they have passion for the game and they work hard. They’re going to make me better just as I’m going to make them better.”