There is no debate; Francisco Lindor is the Cleveland Indians’ top minor league prospect. Not only is he the top prospect in the Tribe system, he’s a consensus top 10 prospect in all of baseball. Baseball America recently ranked him their 6th best prospect in all of baseball while Baseball Prospectus ranked him their 5th best prospect (subscription required). Baseball Prospectus also included a very nice (free) scouting report on Lindor. Lindor’s calling card is his plus-plus defense and his great makeup. However, he’s also been showing some plus skills with the bat. The switch hitting Lindor is batting .284 on the year with a .361 OBP, 6 HR, 11 2B, 4 3B, 24 SB, 50 runs, and 46 RBI. Those 6 HR may not seem like much but he’s tied for 2nd most on the team (Wendle, 8). Canal Park is also the toughest hitter’s park in the Tribe farm system and one of the toughest hitter’s parks in the minor leagues.
Lindor was recently named to the AA Eastern League All-Star team, which takes place July 16th. He was also named to his 3rd Futures Game, where he’ll play for the World Team and bat 2nd. That game takes place today at 5pm and one can catch the action on MLB Network or online at MLB.com.
Also for those Tribe fans living around the Akron area, you may want to get out to see Lindor play there as soon as you can as he may not be there much longer. Recent comments from GM Chris Antonetti suggest he could see AAA Columbus sooner rather than later:
#Indians GM Antonetti on Francisco Lindor: “A promotion to Triple-A could be something we consider in the second half.”
— August Fagerstrom (@AugustF_ABJ) July 13, 2014
A promotion should come as no surprise given how well he’s played to this point. He started last year at High-A Carolina before finishing the year at AA Akron. A similar promotion was to be expected provided he played well (which he clearly has). Of course, the next question is how long until we see Francisco Lindor in Cleveland? Could we see him as soon as this season?
A promotion to Cleveland is not out of the question this year; however, there are several obstacles that could prevent Lindor from reaching the big leagues in 2014. For one the Tribe still has Asdrubal Cabrera on the team. Cabrera is no longer the player he was when he was making back-to-back All-Star teams, but he is still a solid big league SS (1.1 fWAR, 100 wRC+). Depending on how the Tribe does over the next few weeks, there’s a chance Cabrera could be traded to open up a spot. Cabrera is not irreplaceable, and while his defense has not been as atrocious as in years past, it’s still below average at SS. Lindor’s bat may take some time to adjust to big league pitchers but his defense will be an instant upgrade for the Indians, which would be huge given the defensive struggles the Indians have had this year.
Simply trading Cabrera does not automatically mean we would see Lindor at short. Mike Aviles has been a capable starting SS in the past, including a solid showing in Boston in 2012. He could easily start in place of Cabrera without a huge drop in performance. There’s also the presence of the Tribe’s #2 infield prospect, Jose Ramirez, who is already in AAA and has seen time with the big league club each of the past two seasons. While Jose Ramirez is a natural 2B, he has seen time at SS this year and could be used in a platoon of sorts with Aviles. Ramirez is a much better defensive 2B than SS but can hold his own over there. Now is the combination of Aviles/Ramirez better than simply bringing up Lindor and leaving Aviles on the bench? Hard to say, but it may not matter as there’s more to a Lindor call-up than simply creating a spot for him…
Lindor is not currently on the 40-man roster. This in and of itself is not a big deal, as the Tribe could easily DFA someone like Scott Barnes or Justin Sellers to create a 40-man spot. Not to mention a potential Cabrera deal could open a 40-man spot. However, Lindor is not Rule 5 eligible this winter, meaning that if he wouldn’t need to be rostered this winter. Again, this isn’t something that’s a huge deal but by not rostering Lindor at all in 2014 the Tribe would keep open an extra 40-man spot to use on someone else that would need to be rostered (someone like LeVon Washington or Tony Wolters perhaps). That said, I don’t think this will be a big concern for the Tribe. They were in a similar situation with Jose Ramirez last year and still rostered him in September as they felt they were simply a better team with his speed on the bench. The Indians could decide the same thing in September and call up Lindor…
However, Lindor is a much better prospect than Jose Ramirez. He’s a near lock to be a starter and should be a good one at that. As good a prospect as Jose Ramirez is, there’s a reasonable chance he ends up a utility guy at best and we’ve already seen him spending most of this season in AAA. Lindor meanwhile is likely to see a lot of time in Cleveland in 2015. Would the Indians want to start his service clock this soon? The Indians only get 6 full seasons out of a player before they are eligible for free agency. If the Indians keep Lindor in the minors for the rest of this season and the start of the 2015 season they’d get an extra year of service time out of him. And then of course there’s also Super Two status to worry about. Even if the Indians keep Lindor in the minors for the rest of 2014, they’d still have to wait until sometime in June to call him up to ensure he doesn’t get that 4th arbitration season. However, who is the starting SS in 2015 if Lindor remains in the minors?
Well they’d still have Aviles around assuming his $3.5M option is picked up, or they could give Jose Ramirez a look, as Cleveland did something similar with Lou Marson and Carlos Santana in 2010. Santana was clearly viewed as the future behind the plate but Marson was playing at a higher level prior and started for about two months before Santana was called up in June of that year. However, Santana had no time at AAA prior to 2010 so made more sense to give him a couple months there before promoting him. If Lindor is indeed promoted to AAA soon after the All-Star break then is there is less of a developmental reason to keep him in the minors and more of a financial reason. Don’t get me wrong, not saying it’s wrong to keep Lindor down for financial reasons. The Indians are obviously a small market team, and they need to be smart with their finances. However, Lindor is such a special talent that keeping him down may be more harmful than beneficial. If the goal is to win in 2015, and I see no reason it shouldn’t be, then having Lindor on the big league club would seem to be the best option at SS. He’s by far the best defensive option there among players currently under contract and even his bat is coming around and appears to be special. Could Lindor come up and flop? Absolutely as no prospect is bust-proof, but given Lindor’s defense he should be able to provide great value even if the bat isn’t quite there.
So what’s the best option? Well, there’s really no right answer to this. A lot depends on how Lindor looks the rest of this year and how aggressive the Tribe wants to be with his service time. One thing appears certain – the kid is just about ready. Scouts are raving about him and there really isn’t much left for him to show in the minors. I would not be surprised at all if the Indians do in fact give Lindor a look in September. Give him a taste of the show and then potentially attempt to extend him this winter, similar to what we’ve seen from prospects with barely any service time. The Astros recently went a step further and extended Jon Singleton despite zero big league service time. This is one way to avoid Super Two and service clock worries, and I would not be surprised if the Tribe considers a similar tactic with Lindor later this year or early next year. Bottom line, though: the Francisco Lindor era is coming, and it’s coming soon.