The Francisco Lindor Era begins in Cleveland

BY foxsports • June 17, 2015

By Chris Mitchell

The year of the prospect debut continues. Now that the Super Two deadline has come and gone, prospects are getting called up left and right. This past Sunday, we were treated to two debut events simultaneously, when both Byron Buxton and Francisco Lindor joined their respective major league clubs. I covered Buxton Tuesday, so today, I’ll take a look at Lindor, who ranked 14th on Kiley McDaniel’s preseason top-200 list. In case you were wondering, a Kyle Schwarber piece is also in the works.

Unlike Buxton’s call up, which came sooner than many had anticipated, Lindor’s wasn’t much of a surprise. The 21-year-old was hitting .281/.348/.399 in Triple-A this year, after spending the final third of last season at the same level. Throw in that he’s a plus defensive shortstop by all accounts, and it’s probably safe to say that Lindor was the best player left in the minors before his promotion — a distinction that seems to change hands on a weekly basis.

Offensively, Lindor’s calling card is his ability to make contact. The switch-hitter struck out in just 15% of his minor-league plate appearances this year, which matches up with his 14% clip from his prior three-and-a-half years as a pro. Lindor made contact on 89% of his swings in the strike zone in Triple-A — the 29th-highest rate of 126 qualified Triple-A hitters. This bodes well for Lindor’s immediate future, as players with this skill set tend to have relatively smooth transitions to the majors.

Lindor pairs his excellent bat-to-ball ability with plus speed, which enabled him to run BABIPs well over .300 in the minors. His speed also shows up in his baserunning numbers. Although he went an unspectacular 9-for-16 on the base paths this year, he has a total of 93 steals to his name since he was drafted in 2011.

The one thing Lindor doesn’t do is hit for power. His isolated-power numbers were consistently below average in the minors, and he averaged just seven homers per 600 plate appearances. Lindor’s hit for a touch more power since the start of the 2014 season, leaving the yard 16 times in the last year and a half, but he’s unlikely to add much more pop going forward. Kiley McDaniel gave his game power a future grade of 40, which is just a stone’s throw from his present grade of 30. Lindor will probably hit double-digit homers at his peak, but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever hit more than 15.

Despite the lack of power, KATOH’s buying what Lindor’s selling. His 2015 stats yield a projection of 9.6 WAR through age-28, which would have put him 13th overall on KATOH’s preseason top-200 list. This is a touch better than his 2014 numbers, which resulted in a similar projection of 8.8 WAR. Although his power is limited, Lindor’s combination of age, contact ability and speed makes him someone worth getting excited about.

Let’s move on to the statistical comps. Using league-adjusted, regressed stats, along with age, I calculated the Mahalanobis Distance between Lindor’s Triple-A performance and every Triple-A season since 1990 in which a hitter recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Below, you’ll find a list of historical players whose performances were nearest and dearest to Lindor’s, ranked from most to least similar.

Rank Mah Distance Player PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
1 0.31 Grady Sizemore 4,047 30.2
2 0.70 Darin Erstad 4,190 22.4
3 0.99 Tony Mota 0.0 0.0
4 1.07 Andrew McCutchen* 4,083 36.5
5 1.20 Brent Abernathy 955 0.0
6 1.35 Kolten Wong* 751 3.4
7 1.39 D’Angelo Jimenez 2,352 7.4
8 1.44 Alex Ochoa 1,469 4.4
9 1.46 Greg Garcia* 18 0.0
10 1.48 Omar Infante 2,815 6.5
11 1.49 Eric Patterson 575 0.0
12 1.55 Brandon Phillips 3,004 10.2
13 1.60 Chris Clapinski 121 0.3
14 1.68 Carlos Sanchez* 201 0.0
15 1.69 Pedro Valdes 93 0.0
16 1.74 Orlando Merced 2,473 10.9
17 1.78 Vernon Wells 4,167 20.2
18 1.79 Eduardo Nunez* 1,102 0.0
19 1.80 Ryan Sweeney 2,112 8.1
20 1.84 Marco Scutaro 606 0.0

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 season.

And here’s a list containing only players who made the majority of their starts at shortstop. Note that some of the players at the top of the list above — like Sizemore and Erstad — had offensive profiles much more similar to Lindor’s than the players listed atop the shortstop list. There haven’t been too many shortstops who hit as well as Lindor did this year in Triple-A, so some of the comps below — especially those on the back half of the list — are pretty big reaches.

Rank Mah Distance Player PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
1 1.39 D’Angelo Jimenez 2,352 7.4
2 1.48 Omar Infante 2,815 6.5
3 1.60 Chris Clapinski 121 0.3
4 1.79 Eduardo Nunez* 1,102 0.0
5 1.93 Alex Arias 1,013 2.0
6 1.95 Damian Jackson 1,855 5.6
7 1.97 Nick Ahmed* 266 0.7
8 1.98 Jose Ortiz 498 0.0
9 2.00 Tilson Brito 283 0.0
10 2.06 Greg Smith 52 0.0

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 season.

The names listed above are enough to make Indians fans giddy. Three of Lindor’s top four offensive comps had outstanding starts to their major-league careers, and there are several other quality players further down the list. This isn’t to say that Lindor will be the perennial 20-plus home-run threat like Sizemore and McCutchen were, but it’s encouraging that so many successful players did what Lindor did when they were his age. The shortstop-only list is less exciting, but it’s still comforting to see the two best players from that group — Jimenez and Infante — at the very top.

Although he’s just 21, Lindor’s already a pretty darn good baseball player, which is why he’s such a highly touted prospect. Lindor can pick it with the best of them at short, and can more than hold his own with the bat. That’s the skill set of an All-Star quality shortstop. And I’m not talking about Alcides Escobar.

In the here and now, Lindor will provide the Indians with a nice little upgrade over the abominably bad Jose Ramirez and his .180/.247/.240 batting line. As of this writing, Cleveland has a 37% chance of making the playoffs, according to our playoff odds. Although you would never know it from their .468 winning percentage, they’re right at that point where every additional win is huge. Lindor should add a couple more wins to their cause from here on out. These contributions may or may not be enough to move them into the playoffs. But either way, it’ll be fun to watch Lindor man shortstop for the tribe — both this year and for years to come.

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