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Lindor intent on honing defensive skills

MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Mike Sarbaugh can see it in Francisco Lindor's infield work each morning. When a baseball shoots off the fungo bat of the Indians' third-base coach, Lindor is attacking each ground ball with a heightened level of aggressiveness this spring.

"He's on a mission," Sarbaugh said on Thursday morning.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Mike Sarbaugh can see it in Francisco Lindor's infield work each morning. When a baseball shoots off the fungo bat of the Indians' third-base coach, Lindor is attacking each ground ball with a heightened level of aggressiveness this spring.

"He's on a mission," Sarbaugh said on Thursday morning.

Lindor has already established himself as one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball, but he has hardly become complacent. Last season, Lindor took a big step forward as an offensive threat, but he was not satisfied with how he played defensively. Defense has been the shortstop's calling card since his youth, and he has once again made that aspect of his game a priority.

Not much changes in terms of Lindor's routine over the winter -- or even during this spring -- with the exception of an increased attention to defensive detail. As much as Lindor enjoys setting the tone as Cleveland's leadoff hitter, he also wants to set the standard for the team's play in the field.

"It's just be more aware that you can not take any ground balls for granted," Lindor said.

Video: LAA@CLE: Lindor, Kipnis combine for a slick DP

By no means was Lindor a poor defender last season, but the shortstop did not reach the same heights as during the 2016 campaign.

Two years ago, when Cleveland won the first of its two straight division titles and reached the World Series, Lindor picked up both Gold and Platinum Glove awards for his prowess in the field. In 1,364 2/3 innings at shortstop, Lindor collected 17 Defensive Runs Saved and posted a 20.7 UZR/150. Last year, the shortstop had five DRS in 1,377 innings and a 6.6 UZR/150.

According Inside Edge Fielding via Fangraphs, Lindor coverted 26.9 percent of remote plays (those with a 1-10 percent chance of being turned into outs) in 26 chances in '16. Last year, that percentage dropped to 9.1 percent in 33 opportunities. His even plays (40-60 percent) conversion rate slipped to 28.6 percent (seven chances) in '17, compared to 69.2 percent (13 chances) in '16.

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"I feel like last year I wasn't where I should've been," Lindor said. "I didn't make more errors, and it's not that I didn't get to the balls I usually get. I felt like I was getting to baseballs -- I just wasn't getting the out. I feel like this year I want to help the pitchers even more. They're working as hard as they can and they're trying to get every batter out. And I need to help them."

Indians manager Terry Francona said he has already been able to see a difference in Lindor's level of play in the field in Cactus League games this spring.

"He is locked in 100 percent. It's really fun to watch," Francona said. "There's been a couple games just out here where, if it wasn't for him, we're looking at a full-fledged rally as opposed to nobody on and two out. It's happened two or three times. That is such an advantage.

"I know he wanted to tighten [his defense] up," he added later. "I think he felt like it got a little loose at times last year. He really wants to take care of that. And when he puts his mind to it, I don't doubt he'll do it."

Sarbaugh, who doubles as the Indians' infield instructor, has been pleased with Lindor's work behind the scenes, too.

"That's the mind-set he's come into this year with, of being aggressive," Sarbaugh said. "Even his work. His work is unbelievable, especially initially. He's trying to set a tone for himself. He's been great. It sets the tone for everybody else. It makes my job easier."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor