Francisco Lindor is the Cleveland Indians’ shortstop of the future and the top prospect in the system. At the age of 18, he also likely several years away from the big leagues. Drafted eighth overall in 2011, the switch-hitting native of Puerto Rico spent the season with low-A Lake County where he hit .257/.352/.355. An outstanding defensive infielder, he is rated by Baseball America as the game’s 14th-best prospect. Lindor talked about his development — on both sides of the ball — in early August.
David Laurila: Scouts speak highly of your defense.
Francisco Lindor: I’m proud of that and pretty confident about my defensive game. I work hard on it and take great pride in it. I try to get better every day. I come out here and get my ground balls and double plays. It’s been a big part of my game since I was little, and it will be for the rest of my career.
DL: How much of defensive ability is instinctual?
FL: You need to have the instincts to play shortstop, because you have to anticipate all the time. You also have to prepare yourself. You have to anticipate and prepare yourself for what will happen next. It’s a big combination of both.
[Reading a hitter] depends on the swing and how we’re working him, whether we’re working him inside or away, or with off-speed pitches. You have to know. You have to be alert on every pitch — where the catcher is and where [the pitcher] is going to throw — and you also have to know the player’s swing. And on two strikes, they change their swing, sometimes. You have to read that. You have to think, and anticipate what he’s trying to do, whether he wants to move the runner from second to third or hit something in the gap — drive it. You have to anticipate and know the game.
DL: Do you position yourself or is that the responsibility of the coaching staff?
FL: I kind of know the hitters here, from playing against them all year, so I pretty much locate myself. If it’s the first time we’re facing someone, I’ll probably go by the first swing. I’ll go by the pitcher’s location, or whether it’s off-speed, and as soon as I see the first swing, I’ll know what kind of hitter he might be. I play like that, pitch by pitch.
I usually locate myself, but sometimes [the manager] has a different opinion and tells me to move a little bit more. Wally [David Wallace] is a great manager, because he lets us play our game. He’s here to make us better and make us work hard every day. He doesn’t really tell us where to play: “You have to play here; you have to do this.” He’s not that kind of manager.
DL: Are you better going to your right or to your left?
FL: I feel comfortable going to both sides. I think I get the ball the same amount going to my backhand and to my left. All that matters is that when I catch the ball, I have my feet set in the right position. If I do that, I can make any play.
I try to make the play as simple as possible. I don’t want to make anything look flashy. If it’s a play where I can get in front of it, I have a better chance than if I backhand the ball. If I can, I’ll get in front of it. If I can’t, I’ll backhand the ball and make the play. I’m all about making plays as simple as possible.That’s the best thing you can do. As long as you make the plays, you’ll have a job for a long time.
Travis Fryman is our infield coordinator and he tells us about being on time, every time, when the pitch comes. You have to be ready to execute the play. He’s big on making the play simple and getting the out.
DL: Are you happy with your defense this year?
FL: I’ve gotten better since the beginning of the season. I got here in April and feel like I’ve definitely improved from then. Mentally, I’ve gotten better. I’ve learned the game more. That’s where I’ve improved the most. Now I know how to prepare and how to locate myself. I was mentally focused on almost every pitch in high school, and right now I’m pretty positive that I’m more focused than I was then.
I feel better. I feel different… maybe not different, but like a better player than when I started the year. That’s what it’s all about, getting better every day.
DL: How important is confidence?
FL: Very important. If you think “Oh, I might miss this, I might miss this,” then you miss it. I’m sure that every infielder trusts and believes in himself, and knows they can do it. It’s mainly focus. If you can focus for the whole game, you’re going to be a successful infielder. By being focused, you’re anticipating every play. You’re going to be ready and on time, so nothing is going to catch you by surprise.
DL: You’re a switch hitter. How do you differ from the right and left sides?
FL: The only difference is that from the left side, I can throw the bat at the ball and start running; I can try to beat something out at first. I don’t [swing like Ichiro]. I pretty much have the same batting stance and pretty much hold my hands the same. I try to be the same, mechanically, from the left and from the right. I want to be as equal as possible. The difference is that, as a righty, I can’t throw the bat at the ball and start running.
I have confidence from both sides. I know I can do it from both sides. I’m not trying to sound cocky, but I feel good. I have definitely improved since the beginning of the season. I’m a lot better hitter than I was before.
DL: When I talked to [Indians scouting director] Brad Grant earlier this year, he said you have more power from the right side.
FL: It’s my natural side, so I definitely feel that I can get behind the ball a lot better. Like, if you show me something, I feel like, “Yeah, yeah, this pitch. I’m going to drive it; I’m going to hit it out.” Now that I’ve been doing so many reps from the left side, I feel like I can do that, too. I have more home runs as a lefty — obviously I have more at bats as a lefty — but I feel that I can drive the ball from either side of the plate.
DL: David Wallace told me that you’ve had a tendency to fly open from the left side.
FL: Yes, I tend to over-swing lefty, because it’s not my natural side. I kind of turn back and open up a lot more, trying to square the ball up. They’re telling me to just keep it simple. Go from there: back, forward. That’s it. That’s been helping me. I’m getting better because of that.
DL: What are you focusing on at the plate?
FL: My job is to not swing at his pitches, but at my pitches. That’s something I’ve been working on this whole season, and I’m sure that’s something everyone in the minor leagues is working on. Great hitters in the big leagues hit pitchers’ mistakes. That’s what people who have played in the bigs tell me.
It doesn’t matter how hard they’re throwing. If the pitcher locates the ball where he wants it, and where the scouting report is, he’s going be tough to hit. But we’re not perfect. Hitters often get their hits when the pitcher tries to make his pitch and misses. That’s when we execute and get base hits. If the pitcher executes every single pitch, that’s when the perfect games come. But they’re not perfect.
I’m looking for a pitch that I can drive, but I’m trying to stay up the middle the whole game. If I miss my pitch, I miss it. If he makes a great pitch and strikes me out, I tip my cap to him and prepare for the next at-bat.
If I execute, I’m going to successful. God willing. If you can do what you’re supposed to do, and only worry about what you can control, the rest is going to happen.
DL: You played in the All-Star Futures Game this summer.
FL: That was awesome. I faced Taijuan Walker in my one at bat, and got a base hit. I don’t know how hard the pitch was, but when I looked, I think it said he was throwing 95-97 mph to the hitter before me. I only had that one at bat, but the game was a great experience. It was an honor.
Looking around at the atmosphere, and the fans, I was just thinking “Wow, I could really do this for a living, and for a long time.” I hope I can get those blessings to play in the big leagues.
David Wallace on Lindor: “For his age –18 years old — he’s well beyond his years as far as his maturity and his awareness out on the field. The physical tools and talent are obviously there. What makes him special is his work ethic and leadership abilities.
“He’s as coachable as any player I’ve had. He really gets it, as far as where he’s at in his quest to reach the big leagues. He doesn’t feel like it’s just going to be handed to him. He knows he has to work for it and that he’s going to have to make adjustments along the way. When we’ve talked about adjustments this year, whether it’s at the plate or on defense, he’s been very receptive and has made them quickly.
“There are no specific things we harp on him about. There are little things here and there that we work on with him. For instance, from the left side of the plate, he tends to get a little over-rotated in his load, with his shoulders. So, the first thing… to clear a path for his hands, he has to open up his shoulders. That front side is leaking out. It’s just a simple adjustment, keeping those shoulders more in line and making sure his load isn’t over-rotating. That gives his hands a better path to the ball. That was an adjustment he made within the first couple of games of us talking to him about it.
“His swings are pretty similar from the right and left sides, but I think his right side is a little more fundamentally sound right now. He’s gotten way more at bats from the left side this year, and that’s been a good thing for him. We think he’s going to be successful from both sides of the plate in the big leagues.
“I’d say that he’s more advanced defensively right now. His defense is ahead of his offense, but again, we’ve been very pleased with what we’ve seen on both sides of the ball. We love his energy, his awareness, and his leadership. You don’t see that in an 18-year-old kid very often.”