Baseball position strength comes in waves. For example, last year 19 pitchers were selected in the first round of the first-year player draft. That really isn't unusual, because pitching is such a critical position. What is unusual is the quality of those 19 pitchers. I listed most of the top-notch pitchers on these pages in recent weeks.
In 2008, seven first basemen were drafted in the first round. Not another had been selected until Matt Olson, a player from Parkview High School in Georgia was chosen by Oakland with pick No. 47 in the supplemental compensation portion of the first round this week. That's an amazing fact.
Unlike the first base position that is becoming scarce, there are some very highly regarded shortstops on the rise in baseball. The phenomenal number of foreign-born athletes that have entered the game as middle infielders bolsters the position's depth.
We can trace the origins of fantastic international shortstops in particular and middle infielders in general to Venezuelan players like Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, Omar Vizquel, and Dave Concepcion, just to name a few. The country has produced outstanding infielders.
Puerto Rico has provided one of the greatest second basemen in history. Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar is from Puerto Rico. He is the idol of the subject of my fantasy player spotlight today.
Francisco Lindor was born in Puerto Rico. He is from the Cagus area but moved to Ton Baja when he was a bit older. Ironically, that is the same area where Cubs prospect shortstop Javier Baez grew up.
Lindor went to Cleveland with the eighth selection in the 2011 draft. Baez followed him at No. 9, going to the Cubs. Both Lindor and Baez were drafted out of Florida high schools where their families moved so both players could play high school baseball in the United States.
This week on June 4, fellow countryman Carlos Correa, a product of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, joined Lindor and Baez in the shortstop prospect ranks. He became the first Puerto Rican player to begin the draft.
Correa is 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds. The 17-year-old is said to have enough pop in his bat and a deep enough skill set to project as a third baseman. However, Correa is bound and determined to play shortstop professionally, like his idol, Derek Jeter.
Lindor and Baez are built much more in the mold of the Alomar and Vizquel's of the world. Baez is 6-feet tall, Lindor only 5-feet-11. Both are between 175 and 180 pounds.
Lindor is only 18 years old. He is easily the best prospect in the Indians' organization.
For fantasy purposes, don't think Jurickson Profar or Manny Machado when thinking about Lindor's future. Think more a combination of Alcides Escobar and Rafael Furcal. Profar might be Jose Reyes. Some people project that Machado could be Alex Rodriguez “light.” I'm thinking more Miguel Tejada. Not bad either way.
I view Lindor as similar to Escobar, but maybe not as good defensively. The Indians think they have found the next Omar Vizquel. However, when I saw Lindor play this past spring, he reminded me more of Furcal or Escobar than Vizquel. Hey, I'd gladly take that. Basically, he has many of Furcal's characteristics including good range, a very strong and accurate throwing arm and speed. When healthy, Furcal has made a good living playing steady shortstop day in and day out. Only when he was banged up did Furcal's statistics suffer. To me, Escobar represents the epitome of style, grace, and excellence. In my mind, he is today's premier defensive shortstop. He is a magician. Lindor has many similar qualities. Even when I saw a very young and raw Escobar, he looked a tad more polished than Lindor. But not by much.
I have seen countless games played by Vizquel. I don't think I'll ever see another shortstop to compare with him defensively. Escobar has come the closest in my mind. Lindor will be a better hitter than Escobar and maybe not as good as a healthy Furcal. So-he's somewhere between both those very fine shortstops.
Montverde Academy is an English-speaking international boarding school. When he arrived in America at age 12, Lindor couldn't speak English.
At the time he was selected out of Montverde, Lindor was a very raw prospect. He had flashed good defensive tools and an emerging bat. He was adjusting to his new surroundings well and he looked far advanced compared to his competition. The Indians had their eye on Lindor from his first appearances as a prep player in the World Youth Championships in Taiwan (for players 16 and under.) As captain of his United States team, Lindor hit .500 in 11 games. He also won a home-run hitting contest at, of all places, Petco Park in the Aflac All-American Game. But it was his defense that really opened eyes. He had scouts buzzing about his agility, his maturity and his knowledge of the game. He looked like a top prospect shortstop in the eyes of international scouts.
The Indians are not known to spend considerable amounts of money on player development or payroll. They have traditionally been frugal in their approach to bonuses, selecting players that could meet their financial parameters. In Lindor, however, the Tribe seemed to change course. They gave him a $2.9M signing bonus when he signed just prior to the deadline. It was the largest bonus they had ever paid a position player. It was the largest bonus they had ever paid a high school player.
Lindor has a quick first step and overall footwork that takes him to the ball without delay or hesitation. Quick reaction and natural body movement make plays. That's how Lindor responds. He plants his feet well and gets off a very strong and accurate throw. Basically, at this point of his career, Lindor may be accurately described as a “defense first” shortstop. I think that will change.
I see tremendous upside in Lindor's offense. He has very quick hands and strong wrists. He knows what it takes to be a good hitter. That goes back to the fact that Lindor has very natural baseball instincts.
A switch-hitter, I see Lindor as a scrappy type that will be able to drive the ball to the gaps upon occasion, but one that will be a solid singles hitter and a hitter for average as the focal point of his offensive game. I do think his speed will allow him to stretch hits for an extra base. Again, much like Furcal. Adequate power for the position will develop.
I also think Lindor will be able to steal enough bases to keep the defense honest and get himself into scoring position. I see him as a top of the order hitter capable of scoring runs in bunches. Provided the team has someone to knock him in. I don't see him doing the knocking.
I do think he will struggle initially as the pitching quality improves and as he moves up the minor league ladder. I can't help but think he could be over-matched by pitchers with solid breaking balls and off-speed pitches. He will learn with repetition and instruction. I believe he will scuffle a bit in the next three years. Especially once he reaches Double-A and Triple-A. He may have a rough time in his rookie season in the major leagues, but most guys do. He'll adjust quickly and he will hit.
Currently, Lindor is lean and wiry. He still has muscle and weight to gain as he matures. What that increase will do to his total physicality is a great unknown. I think he will have a strong enough and fit enough body to endure hot, humid days. I see him developing in the manner of Escobar. When I saw Escobar as a teenager, he was slight of frame and seemed almost frail. Not anymore. He has filled out and developed an upper body. He's much stronger and has more stamina. The growth has not impacted his defense.
In short, Lindor is a work in progress. The foundation is superb. His soft, quick hands, quick feet, fine reactions, overall baseball instincts, barrel of the bat hitting approach and polished tools have the Indians excited about his future. He is the type of player that can solidify the middle-infield for years.
From a fantasy standpoint, with the exception of long-term keeper leagues it is too early to obtain Lindor. However, it is not too early to codify Lindor in your notes as a star on the horizon that will return dividends on your investment. If he were wine, he'd be sitting in the barrel aging to perfection. Hopefully, the Indians won't get too anxious and tap the barrel before its time.
*Those who follow me know I'm bullish on Jordan Pacheco and Wilin Rosario. I've been writing about them on these pages since I began with the site. Don't let them slip past you next year.
*I was not impressed with Christian Friedrich when I saw him pitch. I didn't see anything special. No real "out" pitch. I worry about him in Coors Field. I'll pass. For now. I reserve the right to change my mind.
*I've taken some grief for my bullish opinion of Dayan Viciedo. Um…We're beginning to see the upside being realized. More to come.
*Sorry - I still don't believe in Gordon Beckham, but I'll admit he has improved. I'm not sure he can sustain his new-found hitting skill. I'll still pass.
*The Tigers may have found some hope in Quintin Berry. I'm still kicking the tires and taking it out for a test drive. Not quite sure yet, what we have. We're still flirting. No commitments are being made.
Bust of the Week: Justin Masterson. Man, you're killing me.
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