The next big thing. How many times have Clevelanders focused their fandom on their future? Think back to the CC Sabathia trade of 2008, when the Indians got a supposed future superstar in Matt LaPorta. He had hit .278 with 32 home runs and posted 97 RBI in just 417 minor league at-bats at the time of the deal, but he’s never come anywhere close to realizing his potential.
Now, that title has fallen to Francisco Lindor, the organization’s consensus top prospect. So as the Indians head into an offseason full of questions, one of the biggest should be: Why are so many people buying the stock of a slap-hitting shortstop as the future of the franchise?
Francisco Lindor turns 19 years old on November 14. In his first full season of professional baseball, when most 18-year-olds are graduating and planning their prom, Lindor was hitting .257/.352/.355 for the Low-A Lake County Captains. He posted an impressive 78:61 K/BB ratio over 568 plate appearances while showing solid speed with 27 stolen bases. He showed some gap power as well, ripping 24 doubles, three triples and six home runs.
At 5’11”, 175 pounds, the small, young shortstop has an impressive skill-set to become a useful major league player. But Lindor is not a difference-making talent. While he could save some runs with his glove later in his career, the glove still needs work, as evidenced by his 18 errors and .968 fielding percentage in 2012. But the bigger question is, how many superstars hit .257 and rip an astounding six home runs?
Lindor looks like a future role player, not the cornerstone of a franchise. Several years ago, you might recall, Baseball America was high on a young shortstop named Jose Iglesias, who was was the Red Sox’ No. 1 rated prospect after the 2010 season. His stock has since plunged, along with his average, as his slick glove and slap-hitting bat have carried him no further than the upper levels of the minors. He may or may not get a shot with Boston in 2013 after two seasons and 783 plate appearances with a .251/.302/.287 line in Triple-A.
Sure, Lindor isn’t Iglesias, but neither is he Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, or even J.J. Hardy. If and when he arrives in Cleveland, he is more likely to be a glorified version of Luis Valbuena than the next Manny Ramirez or Asdrubal Cabrera, at least offensively.
Why fuss and fight for what Francisco Lindor is going to become? I suggested trading him a few months ago and many intelligent readers there ripped me apart. But hat has Lindor proven? Why would you not deal him for help on the major league roster right now if you could? His stock is high but there is a limit to his ability and no guarantee that he will cut it in The Show.
The Indians have counted on young talent through their many rebuilding processes over the years. How often has that talent come through for them in Cleveland? How many of those who did come through were traded for the next next big thing who then became nothing for the Tribe? Counting on Lindor may be the team’s next such mistake.