GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Francisco Lindor’s time in the major-league clubhouse at Indians spring training ended on Thursday. If things go according to plan, this should be the final year in awhile that he isn’t part of the Tribe’s opening day roster.
The organization’s top prospect was one of eight sent down to the minors as the process of getting to the 25-man roster begins to ramp up.
Even though Lindor had a great camp, Terry Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti have been very up front and firm in saying that Lindor was going to open the season in Triple-A Columbus.
"We talked all along how long to have him up here," Francona said. "I think it is also in his best interest to go to the other side with those guys, be a good teammate, leader, enjoy and embrace being as good a player as he can be. We’re looking forward to watching his progression."
Lindor produced many memorable moments during spring training. On the first day of full team workouts on Feb. 24 he won the endurance test and had a head-first slide to cross the finish line. During the second spring training game, he made snagging a high line drive from Kristopher Negron look routine.
In 16 games, Lindor batted .297 (11-for-37) with six extra-base hits, including an inside-the-park home run on March 15 against the Padres, and five RBI. Last year in his first major league camp last year, he played in 11 games and was 6-for-19 with a home run and five RBI.
The big difference this year though is that Francona saw a more comfortable player.
"He’s learning to take construction even better and not view it as criticism. He got stronger and had a great camp," he said. "I think people sometimes view why you can’t take players up who lead their team in hitting. As much as we enjoy watching guys do good if you pick your team based on spring training you’d make a lot of mistakes. The way guys handle the season, that defines them as players."
Which is the biggest reason Lindor is beginning the season in Columbus — they still want further proof on how he can handle a season. Lindor batted .198 in his first 19 games with the Clippers before going .333 down the stretch. It is one thing to be a consistent hitter in spring training, but the level of competition ramps up during the regular season.
There were some who thought last spring that Lindor would be this year’s opening day shortstop. But Jose Ramirez’s solid play after the trade of Asdrubal Cabrera has given the Indians more time to make sure that Lindor is indeed ready when he is called up. The Indians also have depth with Mike Aviles and Zach Walters (when healthy). That is why if Ramirez would have a slow start the expectation would be Aviles seeing more time at short than calling up Lindor.
The Indians also remain steadfast in recognizing that Lindor is only 21 and could begin the season as the youngest player in the International League. They want him to enjoy the journey as long as possible before reaching the majors.
"He’s 21 years old. Enjoy getting better," Francona said. "These should be some of the most fun times of his life playing regardless of where it is. I sometimes think guys lose sight of that because they want to be up there so bad. He shouldn’t miss out on that."
When Lindor is called up this season will be a combination of how well he is playing and need. If past Aprils are any indication, there might be more of a clamor since he hits .312 the first month of the season.
Barring an injury this season, it is not a matter of if Lindor gets called up but when.
"I can’t force it. I have to go out there and do my thing," said Lindor about the upcoming season earlier in camp. "Wherever I start, I will handle it the right way and be very professional."