Indians planning patience with Lindor's development
Club not willing to rush prospect to Major Leagues
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona did not dance around the question. If anything, Francona's answer was intentionally blunt, erasing any drama that might have been created when shortstop Francisco Lindor walked through the clubhouse doors for the first time in Spring Training.
Can Lindor make Cleveland's Major League roster this spring?
"Lindor's not going to," Francona said during the Winter Meetings in December. "We're not going to do that. His development needs to be just that. When he's ready, his play will show us that."
Let it be clear: There will be no controversy at shortstop during Spring Training.
As things currently stand, Cleveland is perfectly content with heading into the 2015 season with Jose Ramirez as its full-time shortstop and veteran Mike Aviles serving as the backup. Lindor, who turned 21 years old in November, is very much in the plans as the shortstop of the future, but the Indians do not plan on expediting his timeline to the Majors.
The reality remains that Lindor -- Cleveland's No. 1 prospect, according to every evaluating publication, including MLB.com, and No. 4 among MLB.com's Top 100 -- has only 38 games and 180 plate appearances under his belt at the Triple-A level. It is also important to note that Lindor has been one of the youngest players at each level he's played, falling roughly four years below league average throughout his four professional seasons.
Lindor (selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft) might very well reach the Major Leagues in 2015, but the Indians feel the young shortstop still has room for improvement.
"Francisco had an incredible year developmentally," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said earlier this offseason. "At every level he's been, he's been the youngest player at that level. The same thing happened in Triple-A and he had some challenges that he was working through there."
While with Triple-A Columbus this past season, Lindor had four strikeouts for every one walk on average, representing a noticeable decrease in plate discipline. At every other Minor League level prior to reaching Triple-A, the switch-hitting shortstop averaged 1.3 strikeouts per walk. Lindor's .695 OPS at Triple-A was also below his .736 career OPS in the Minor Leagues.
Overall last season, Lindor posted a .276/.338/.389 slash line to go along with 11 home runs, 16 doubles, four triples, 62 RBIs, 75 runs, 28 stolen bases, 49 walks and 97 strikeouts in 126 games between Double-A Akron and Columbus. Following the Minor League season, Lindor suited up for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League and hit .265 with three home runs, nine RBIs and a .753 OPS in 24 games.
"The great thing about Francisco," Antonetti said, "is he's so focused on getting better as a player. Every opportunity he has to play or practice, he's thinking of ways to get better. The way he approached his work in the Fall League was no different than he did in Double-A or Triple-A. He made continued progress. We're very pleased overall with the year Francisco had."
That said, the Indians are also thrilled with the year Ramirez had in Cleveland.
"We're really comfortable with Jose Ramirez and Mike Aviles, that combination," Francona said. "Jose came up and kind of showed that he not only belonged in the Major Leagues, but could hit at the top of the order."
After Cleveland traded veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Ramirez was given the keys to shortstop. Following the trade, the 22-year-old Ramirez hit .280 with 10 stolen bases, 13 extra-base hits, 15 RBIs and 21 runs scored over 51 games. He found a home in the lineup's No. 2 spot and gave the Tribe a plus defender up the middle.
"Jose did an incredible job," Antonetti said. "He really did everything we could've asked."
Even if Lindor has an extremely strong showing this spring, Ramirez would still be in line for the Opening Day starting job at shortstop.
"A guy hitting .400 in Spring Training," Francona said, "that doesn't show you they're ready to handle the rigors of a full season. It can certainly excite you about seeing some of their tools, but that's not a genuine show of what they can do."
When asked if Lindor could break camp with the big league club, Antonetti was a little more cautious with his reply, accounting for unpredictable elements.
"There would be a number of things that would have to happen for Francisco to make our Major League team," Antonetti said. "There would have to be, one, the opportunity. Two, we would have to feel -- not just based upon how he performs in Spring Training -- that he is ready to not only come up to the Major Leagues, but come up to the Major Leagues and be successful and ready to contribute.
"That would be the criterion in which we would have Francisco break with us in Spring Training. Coming out of camp, is it conceivable? Can I envision a scenario where that happens? Sure. Is it probable? I don't think so."