After a slow April put them in an early hole, the Cleveland Indians are hoping a youth movement led by Francisco Lindor can get them back into the race.
With an unprecedented number of top prospects playing in the Majors this season, it’s easy to lose track of some. Kris Bryant and Addison Russell dominated the early season buzz with rare April call-ups (Bryant’s, of course, was a certainty). Since then, several other top prospects have made the jump, including Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Carlos Rodon, and Noah Syndergaard.
Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor got the call on June 14th, after all of the aforementioned players had already debuted. In the midst of such a whirlwind of call-ups, Lindor himself was overshadowed by the introduction of Kyle Schwarber into the Cubs’ lineup just two days later–against the Indians. Lindor’s had a relatively quiet first week in the Majors, but his debut has come at a perfect time for both him and the Indians.
Going into the season, Cleveland was expected to contend for the Central division, if not the American League pennant. At that time, Lindor was ranked the fourth best prospect in the league by both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus. Indians fans had to be wondering how long the team would wait before bringing up its prized talent for an extra push in the division race. After all, he’d been the team’s shortstop of the future since the day he was drafted four years ago.
Of course, things haven’t gone as planned to begin 2015, and the Indians are now 31-35. Things have turned around some after a nightmare start, but they’ve dropped six of their last 10. As such, Cleveland has taken a great opportunity to bring the 21-year-old Lindor up early and in a low-pressure environment.
The Tribe have fallen far enough behind that very few people expect them to make a serious playoff push. They’re only 5.5 games back in the Wild Card race, but five teams separate them from the Yankees and Twins, who currently hold the two playoff spots.
With Lonnie Chisenhall recently being sent to the minors to work on his hitting (despite a horrific bout of bad luck), Cleveland also called up 23-year-old Giovanny Urshela to take over at third base. Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez had struggled so badly to hit that any contributions from Urshela and Lindor would be welcomed. Ramirez played 46 games at shortstop and hit .180 with an impossibly bad .487 OPS before being sent down on June 6th.
Urshela, with nine games under his belt to Lindor’s four, has understandably established himself a bit more. He homered in Cleveland in his third game, a 6-0 win against Seattle. He’d put together a nice four-game hitting streak before being held hitless in Friday’s game against the Rays. Urshela had the game-winning RBI against the Cubs on Thursday, and he’s only committed one error thus far.
Lindor’s barely had a chance to show the world what he can do, but many are impressed with what they’ve seen. After notching his first career hit as a substitute, Lindor excelled in Cleveland’s 6-0 win against the Cubs on Tuesday, his first career start. I was at the game, and Lindor’s natural speed and feel for the position were evident. He had two hits, a nifty stolen base and scored a run.
He only notched one hit in eight at-bats after that, but no one said adjusting to major league pitching is easy (regardless of what Kyle Schwarber might tell you). Still, it was a nice to see Lindor break out of his mini-slump with a 2-for-4 day on Friday.
Francisco Lindor is in a great position as the Indians enter the heart of the season. If they don’t turn it around, he has a very low-stakes environment to adapt to Major League pitching. Jose Ramirez was producing so little offensively that Lindor could improve the Indians significantly as just a league-average hitter. With nearly 100 games to go, perhaps the Tribe aren’t so far out of it yet.