It's not as if Francisco Lindor came out of nowhere. After all, the Cleveland Indians drafted him eighth overall in 2011. He was a highly rated prospect throughout his minor league career. Everyone knew he could field. Everyone liked his line-drive stroke from both sides of the plate. It's just that, well ... even the most optimistic of scouts rarely project a high school kid as a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who will hit for average and power in the majors.
Still, check out Baseball America's report on Lindor before that 2011 draft:
A baseball rat, Lindor has tremendous work ethic to go with above-average tools, and he plays the game with ease and passion. He's a switch-hitter with a line-drive stroke from both sides of the plate, and he has excellent hands that work both at the plate and in the field. He has the tools to play shortstop well at the highest level, with smooth actions, fluidity, instincts and good fundamentals. He's a plus runner but not a burner. Lindor's power is the biggest question about him. He has flashed more than just gap power at times, which was pushing him up draft boards. His season ended in April, and he wasn't expected to play in Florida's high school all-star game, instead working out on his own. Scouts haven't scoffed at Omar Vizquel comparisons. Scouting directors said Lindor was a legitimate candidate for the No. 1 overall pick, but more likely he'll slot in just behind that.
Looking back, all the traits we see now were there, although it was the concerns about his power that led to Lindor dropping. Gerrit Cole went first overall, your classic big, hard-throwing college right-hander. The Seattle Mariners drafted Danny Hultzen second, a polished lefty from Virginia who got injured. Trevor Bauer, a teammate of Cole's at UCLA, went third to the Arizona Diamondbacks. After that came Dylan Bundy, Bubba Starling, Anthony Rendon and Archie Bradley, and it's safe to say that at least six of the teams that drafted ahead of the Indians would like a do-over. Bundy and Bradley were high school pitchers, always risky choices. Rendon was injury prone in college and has been injury prone as a professional. Starling was the biggest risk of all, a star high school quarterback from Kansas; the Kansas City Royals bet on his athleticism and power over his lack of baseball experience.
There was an obvious reason to like Lindor over Starling: their birthdates. Starling was born Aug. 3, 1992; Lindor was born Nov. 14, 1993. Starling would turn 19 shortly after being drafted; Lindor wouldn't turn 19 until after his third professional season. Studies have shown that draft-day age makes a big difference for expected future results for high school players. Younger is better. Older kids may look better simply because they're older; they've had more experience and are often simply more physically mature. But give a younger player that extra year of practice and game time and sometimes that added physical growth, and the on-field results can change drastically.
That's what we've seen with Lindor. He didn't hit for much power in the minors: six home runs in 2012 in Class A, just two in 2013 in 104 games between Class A and Double-A. Even last year, he hit just two in 59 games in Triple-A before his call-up. But keep in mind how young he was for his leagues. He was getting stronger and learning to hit better pitching. Once called up to the Indians, he took off. No, he doesn't quite have the raw power of Carlos Correa, his fellow sophomore, but Lindor has more than enough, with 10 home runs to go along with his .299 average, putting him on pace for 20 home runs and 31 doubles.
You may remember that through his first 20 games in the majors, Lindor was hitting .205 with one home run. That was July 7, 2015. In the calendar year since, he has played in 160 games and hit .320/.369/.496 with 21 home runs. Given his defense and speed, those are MVP-caliber numbers. Even heading into this season, there were some unknowns about whether he'd really be a .300 hitter. His offensive spike down the stretch last year was influenced by a high batting average on balls in play. Well, his BABIP has regressed this season and he's still hitting .299. There's even the likelihood that he develops a little more power; young players often learn to hit more fly balls as they get older. If not, Lindor still projects as a Derek Jeter-type at the plate, spraying hits all over the field, popping a few home runs, drawing walks and stealing some bases.
Then there's that defense. That initial scouting report called him a baseball rat. Baseball rats make plays like this, as Lindor did on Tuesday (I don't know if I've seen a 4-6-5 double play turned in this manner):
We're in a golden age of young shortstops, with Lindor, Correa, Xander Bogaerts and rookie Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers regarded as this generation's Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada (with Addison Russell and Trevor Story a notch behind those four). They can all hit. But it's Lindor's defense that may end up separating him from the other three. According to defensive runs saved, the other three aren't in the same league:
Only the San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford, with plus-17 DRS, rates higher than Lindor, who should win his first Gold Glove this season. The Cleveland Indians have allowed the second-lowest average on ground balls this year behind only the Chicago Cubs, certainly a testament to Lindor's defense. Considering he was compared to Vizquel as a high schooler, maybe this isn't a surprise.
Who's the best of the four? Do I have to decide?