Humble Lindor awaits big league opportunity
Indians' prospect eager to complete ascent through Minors to Tribe clubhouse
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- This did not have to be Francisco Lindor's responsibility. He could have spent a few extra minutes at his locker, waiting for one of his Mahoning Valley teammates to do it. Lindor was the first-rounder. The top prospect. Let someone else carry the dirty laundry.
It was part of the postgame routine. Lindor's short-season team had just wrapped up its first game with the shortstop as part of the lineup, and the bus was running and waiting. The players took off their dirt-stained uniforms, stuffed them inside large bags and it was up to someone, anyone, to haul them outside.
Lindor walked over, hoisted two bags over his shoulders and carried them to the bus.
"You don't see that a lot in that type of player," said Dave Wallace, who was the manager at Mahoning Valley during that 2011 season. "From Day 1, he's been the guy that is helping. He puts the team in front of himself. That's pretty special."
Three years later, Lindor is 20 years old and suiting up for the Indians during his first Spring Training with the Major League team. The switch-hitting shortstop is likely headed to Double-A Akron or Triple-A Columbus to begin the season, but he knows this month is a chance to not only learn from the big league players and coaches, but to impress anyone watching.
The Indians have their shortstop in veteran Asdrubal Cabrera, but his contract is set to expire at the end of the season and Lindor is knocking on the big league door. As he spoke on Thursday morning, Lindor scanned the clubhouse and smiled. He understands that his locker will be emptied within the next few weeks and he will be shipped to the Minor League side.
Lindor wants to return to the Majors as soon as possible.
"Eventually, God willing, the plan is to be with them in the big leagues," Lindor said, "and help them win and contribute to what they're doing. They're changing this thing around. They're changing it and doing a great job. I just want to be part of it."
The Indians love the attitude and burning desire to excel that lives inside Lindor, who was taken with the eighth overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
Wallace -- Lindor's manager at Mahoning Valley (2011), Class A Lake County ('12) and Class A Advanced Carolina ('13) -- has spent a lot of time stressing patience to the shortstop. The priority is preparation. Preparation leads to production. Production can sometimes alter an organization's developmental plan.
This season, Wallace will manage at Double-A, making it possible that he will have Lindor in his lineup for the fourth straight year.
"I encourage all our guys, 'Yes, I want you to strive to get to the next level,'" Wallace said. "I want him to try to make that Columbus roster out of camp. Have those desires. The trick is, what are you focusing on day in and day out? If that's his focus, then he's going to lose sight of that preparation and that work ethic that he's been so good with. He's knows what he needs to do."
Wallace had to hammer that message home a little in the first half of last season, when Lindor was abusing Carolina League pitching and looking primed for Double-A. Cleveland maintained its patient approach, waiting until after the All-Star break -- during which he appeared in his second straight Futures Game -- to promote the shortstop to Akron.
"We dealt with it a little bit last year in Carolina," Wallace said. "He was tearing up the league and a big part of him wanted to be up in Akron. And that's great."
Mention Wallace's mentorship and Lindor smiles.
"With the Indians, he's like my dad," Lindor said. "He's always talking to me. We have a great relationship. It's not only with me. All of his players, they're very appreciated of Wally, what he does for them. He's always talking to me and giving me advice on life and baseball."
On the field, Lindor has opened plenty of eyes since joining the farm system.
The shortstop hit .316 in his five-game debut in 2011 and followed that by hitting .257 with 27 stolen bases, 33 extra-base hits and 83 runs in 122 games for Lake Country in '12. Last season, Lindor posted a .303/.380/.407 slash line overall with two home runs, 22 doubles, seven triples, 34 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, 65 runs and more walks (49) than strikeouts (46) in 104 games.
Lindor has continued to shine this spring. In nine at-bats, the shortstop has three hits, including a go-ahead three-run homer in Sunday's victory over Seattle and an RBI double that put Cleveland ahead in a win over the Mariners on Wednesday. In 15 career Cactus League games, Lindor has hit .303 with an .839 OPS.
Indians manager Terry Francona has definitely noticed, but he knows better than to let excitement intefere with experience.
"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. If the guy gets there before he's ready, he's going to have a hard time being productive.
"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. And the more games, the more reps they get, the better they are."
Lindor said he has learned not to get too concerned with when the big leagues will come calling.
"I don't think about it," he said. "Once I'm on the field, I'm thinking about winning. I'm not thinking about the big leagues. I'm not in the big leagues, and I can't worry about that. I've got plenty of things to worry about."
Worrying about his teammates' dirty uniforms will not be on that list for long.
"I hope one day soon he's not carrying his own laundry," Wallace said with a smile. "But, you know what? He's willing to do it. That's what makes him who he is."