When the Indians took Francisco Lindor with the 8th-overall pick in last year’s draft, they brought into the fold — in the opinion of scouting director Brad Grant — “a potential Gold Glove shortstop.” The 18-year-old switch-hitter also profiles well with the bat, which helps explain why Cleveland was willing to draft a high school player in the first round for the first time in a decade. Grant talked about the selection of Lindor, from the scouting process to the tools to the projection.
Grant on the discovery and pursuit of Francisco Lindor: “We first became aware of Francisco as a 16-year-old on Team USA. By the time he was 17, we were very, very aware of him. That’s what kind of made him a unique case for us: the amount of history we were able to build with him. We had already seen Francisco quite a bit by the time he got to his senior year of high school.
“Our first report on him said that he had the uncanny ability to play shortstop. His instincts and actions were advanced for his age. He had the type of ability where we could say, ’This guy can play shortstop and stay at shortstop.’ A lot of times you hear it said that a guy has a chance to stay at short. With Francisco, we were pretty sure that he could.
“A year ahead of time — the winter before — we spend a lot of time ranking guys out, especially the young high school players. We try to make sure we have those guys identified before we go into the spring.
“High school pitching and college players can separate out a little for you in the spring, and we’ll take the time to go through those guys, but I think the high school position players are especially important to use your summer looks on. You put together the information you gather over the summer and spend time identifying them, so once you get into the spring you know exactly who you’re going to be targeting.
“[Second-round selection] Dillon Howard is another guy that we targeted coming into the spring. He was a guy we had identified — we had put him on our map as a targeted player — leading into the spring. But once we got into the spring itself, Francisco kind of separated out for us. The opportunity to add a premium position player, who was just 17, helped separate him from the rest of the pack.
“We gathered as much information as we could on Francisco and spent a lot of time discussing him. We knew pretty early that he was in consideration for out first pick, at number 8, and he continued to solidify that during the spring.”
On building a resume on a player: “We use a lot of information to make our decisions. We’re going to try to apply as much information to our decisions as possible. When players come into our consideration, we’re going to continue to compile as much as we can, from as many different resources as possible. The more information you have, the better decision you’re going to make. We’re trying to reduce risk as much as possible.
“The information we gather goes beyond just the evaluation. The evaluation obviously needs to be correct, because it is what starts the entire process; without our scouts, we wouldn’t be anywhere. But once we have that solid evaluation — and feel good about it — we add the different pieces in. That might include psychological, medical, mechanical or statistical. We’re going to continue to build a case for a player with all of those secondary pieces built into the evaluation itself.”
On drafting Lindor instead of fellow high school shortstop Javier Baez, who was taken 9th overall by the Cubs: “We spent a lot of time on those two players. We liked Javier Baez a lot. There is a lot of upside to him with his power, his approach, and everything he brings to the table. There is a lot to like, but in the end, what separated it for us was Francisco’s true ability to play shortstop. Again, we truly feel that he can be a major league shortstop. There aren’t too many times when we look at a high school player and say that. Francisco is a switch hitter who is a potential Gold Glove shortstop.
“Francisco has great natural instincts in the field. He has the hands, the feet, the range, and he continues to get quicker. He has that special, unique ability. You can see it in his intangibles and instincts, just the way he reacts to a ball — how he gets to a ball and how he positions himself for a ball. It’s how his hands work, his arm, everything. It just flows for him so easily.”
On projecting defense in a high school infielder: “It’s hard, because you know the body is still growing. They’re still maturing, so you don’t know what their physical max is going to be — you’re not sure just how things are going to play out in the long term. That’s why the defensive side is often hard to figure out, and why you often hear that a guy profiles better at a different position. High school players get moved from short to second, or short to third, or a centerfielder ends up moving to a corner, because of how he physically matured. It’s hard to project, but again, in Francisco’s case, all of the signs point to him being able to stay at shortstop.”
On projecting high school hitters: “That’s difficult as well, because you have less to go on. Again, the more history you have to go on, the better decision you’re going to make. Having more information doesn’t make it easy, but it does help you predict how a guy is going to hit in the future.
“With a high school bat, you really just have the summer and the spring to try to put that together. You’re dealing with metal bats, instead of wood bats — as well as physical maturity — so it’s challenging. If we’re going to take a high school bat, it’s going to be someone we have a lot of history with.
“The summers are important, because we can gather information on how they perform with a wood bat against better high school competition [in showcase tournaments]. That usually gives us a good indication of how they’re going to perform in the future.
“With a college hitter you have statistical indicators, and a lot of times you’ve watched them in high school as well as through their three years in college. With a high school hitter, you have to focus a lot more than other things. Things such as his natural set up which is putting himself into a good hitting position. His swing path and bat speed. And how he recognizes pitches and controls the strike zone. Those are a few things that we look for.”
On how Lindor profiles as a hitter: “With hit-ability, we think he has a chance to be an above-average hitter at the major-league level. We think that he’ll be able to hit for a higher average. His approach at the plate is very balanced. He has good bat speed. He puts himself in a good hitting position from both sides of the plate. He has a compact, line-drive swing.
“I think Francisco is going to be able to hit for some power, too. He’s got more power than people give him consideration for. Ultimately, as he continues to gain strength, he’ll show more than just gap power. I think he’ll be able to hit some home runs.
“I think he has a little more power from the right side. From the left side it’s a little more compact; it’s a little more of a line-drive-type swing. I think it’s a similar set up from both sides of the plate, with a bit more power from the right side.
“A big thing for him, as a high school kid, is that he has good pitch recognition. He has a plan at the plate and puts himself into good hitting counts. He has a good understanding of what good hitting counts are.”
On talking hitting with prospective draft picks: “Our area scouts spend a lot of time talking to the players about what they were thinking at the plate in certain at bats. What were you trying to do here? You were in this count here, what was your thought process? We’ll ask them to recall at bats from the past and talk to them about what their thought process was. That can give us an idea of what their feel is for the aspects of hitting we were just talking about.
“It’s rare that you can find a high school player who can answer those questions correctly. They’re not put into situations where they can learn all of that, but we feel we can help them make those adjustments. We can teach and train them, so that they can continue to advance. When you do find someone like Francisco who has that rare capability — someone who already has an understanding at the age of 17 — it makes our job even easier.”
On the Indians drafting a high school player in the first round for the first time since 2001: “Our philosophy has always been to take the best player. We assess the risk of the player ultimately reaching his role in his expected timeframe, and we’re always going to balance that. In Francisco’s case, we feel that we’ve got a pretty advanced high school player.
“In this scenario, we felt it was the right thing to do to take a high school position player over someone more established, like a college pitcher or college position player. It’s always a case-by-case decision. We don’t have a set philosophy where we want to take a high school player or a college player. We want the best player, and last year we felt that player was Francisco Lindor.”
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