Francisco Lindor was always going to play at the major league level due to his glove. It was the bat that needed seasoning, something Lindor proved in his first full professional season.
The eighth overall pick by the Indians in the 2011 amateur draft, Lindor spent the entire 2012 season with Cleveland’s Low A affiliate at Lake County, hitting .257/.352/.355 with six homers in 567 plate appearances. He progressed every year, both in terms of level and production, but he didn’t quite mash his way to the show. In 109 career games with Double A Akron, he hit .280/.363/.390 with seven jacks. Lindor slashed .279/.333/.396 with seven more homers in 97 career games at Triple A Columbus, split between ’14 and ’15, before the Indians decided to call him up.
We are in a golden age of young shortstops, with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Corey Seager joining Lindor on a star-level platform. Lindor might be the best of them all, and it’s the surprising pop in his bat that has vaulted him into heady company sooner than most expected.
Lindor’s hit tool always graded out to suggest he could be a career .300 hitter, but it’s the power that was truly unpredictable. When Lindor arrived in the majors, nothing suggested he would belt 22 homers in his first 173 career games after hitting 21 homers in the 416 games he played across five levels of the minors. Players might grow into additional natural power as they age, but rarely do we see a player completely change his power profile once he hits the majors, like Lindor has done.
The obvious question that derives from Lindor’s power surge in the majors is did he change anything once he got to the show? To determine the answer, we must first go back to Lindor the minor leaguer.
What did Lindor chance once getting to the majors? Let’s examine Lindor’s minor-league days (and look at him from both sides of the plate, since he‘s a switch hitter). The minor league pictures, both still and moving, come from his final days at Triple A before his promotion to Cleveland. Here’s Lindor from the left-handed batter’s box.
Lindor’s hands are close to his body at shoulder height. He has an average knee bend and a slightly open stance. In the GIF, we see a rocking load without a stride that echoes what we saw from Jim Edmonds for so many years. Lindor’s stance isn’t nearly as wide, and he doesn’t have the same uppercut swing Edmonds did, but the load mechanism is similar.
When we flip it to the other side of the plate, we see a mirror image of Lindor’s left-handed stance, but the swing is different. Gone is the back-leg-to-front-leg rock. Instead, we see him taking a relatively common stride as he squares up his open stance. This is almost the textbook swing every righty learns when he or she is five years old, with the exception of the slightly open stance.
About two weeks after the above GIF, one of Lindor’s seven home runs at Triple A Columbus, the Indians promoted him to the majors. Over the next few months, Lindor and the coaching staff would tweak his stance and his swing. By time September rolled around, this is what he looked like at the plate
Notice that Lindor’s hands are much lower and start closer to his body. As we can see in the below GIF—and just for the record, Lindor takes Jeff Samardzija deep here—his swing is different, too.
Lindor no longer has the rocking load from his days as a minor leaguer on the left side. Instead, he has transitioned to a stride similar to what we saw from him in the minors as a righty. Lindor made the same change to his stance on the other side of the plate. His swing path and stride are basically the same as they were in the minors, but his hands are much lower and in tight against his body as the pitcher goes into his windup and delivery.
Lindor hit 12 homers in 99 games and 438 plate appearances as a rookie. If he came back down to earth in the power department this season, he wouldn’t have been the first player in major league history to see a short-term power surge flame out once the league got a more comprehensive book on him. The fact that Lindor had 75% as many homers in 99 MLB games as he did in 416 minor league games had certain portions of the fantasy community dubious as to his power potential in 2016. It’s safe to say no one doubts it now.
We’re just about at the halfway point of the season, and Lindor is on pace for 22 homers. His .164 isolated slugging is 10th among shortstops and on par with the likes of Starling Marte, Christian Yelich and Adrian Beltre. We’ve seen more of the same from him this season from both sides of the plate.
The adjustments he made as a major leaguer last year are here to stay. Again, we see his hands low and close to his body. They’re a bit higher on the right side this year, but still lower than they ever were in the minors. Now armed with the confidence that comes with being one of the best—if not the very best—shortstop in the league, and a legitimate 20-homer threat, Lindor appears to have a bit more swagger as well. This is his reaction to the above homer off Justin Verlander.
Lindor’s power was non-existent in the minors. It’s a real phenomenon in the majors. Combined with the defensive and hitting skills everyone expected him to bring to the show, it puts Lindor on the short list of the league’s best shortstops.
Hitters to watch this week
Justin Turner, 1B/3B, Dodgers
Turner has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball over the last two weeks, going 19-for-52 with six homers, 17 RBI and nine runs scored. He was a surprisingly effective fantasy player over the last two seasons, but it took him a while to get going in ‘16. He’s about to polish off a June in which he’s slugging .611, but his OBP is down at .313. While that declining on-base rate—he had a combined .384 OBP in 761 plate appearances between ’14 and ‘15—is a legitimate concern, he’s on pace to eclipse 20 home runs for the first time in his career.
Justin Bour, 1B, Marlins
Like his fellow Justin, Bour has been hitting everything in sight in the last 14 days. The Miami first baseman is 13-for-29 with four homers, 13 RBI and nine runs in his last 10 games, raising his slash line to .270/.345/.530 from .251/.325/.469 in that time. He had a particularly strong series against the Cubs, the team that left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft back in 2013, going 3-for-9 with two homers, a double, seven RBI and two walks in last weekend’s series. Bour, who has shown this sort of power in the past, is available in about 65% of all fantasy leagues. Now is not a bad time to pick him up and give him a spin.
Justin Upton, OF, Tigers
It’s a trio of Justins kicking off our hitters to watch this week, and none is a more welcome sight in this section than Upton. Along with Carlos Gomez, Upton has been the biggest hitter bust this season, slashing .224/.272/.336 through June 12. He has played 14 games since that date, amassing a .259/.365/.556 line with four homers, 15 RBI, eight runs and nine walks. This is the Upton everyone expected to see as a key part of a potent Detroit lineup. The Tigers need him more than ever with J.D. Martinez on the shelf for at least another month. He’s coming around not a moment too soon for his fantasy owners, as well.
Shin-soo Choo, OF, Rangers
It has been a frustrating, injury-filled first half for Choo, but everything is finally starting to take a positive turn. His second DL stint ended on June 13, and he promptly homered in his return to the lineup. He has gone 16-for-52 with three bombs, three doubles, nine RBI, 10 runs and seven walks in 13 games since getting back in the lineup, rating as the No. 25 hitter in standard 5x5 leagues over the last two weeks. What’s more, he’s back at the top of the order, cementing himself as the leadoff man in the Rangers potent lineup. He’ll be a fantasy asset, so long as he’s on the field.
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
Correa is finishing off his best month of the season, a June in which the Astros got themselves firmly back into the wild-card race, if not the hunt for the AL West crown. Their star shortstop is hitting .272/.375/.556 with four homers, five doubles, three triples, 16 RBI, 13 runs and 12 walks in the month, raising his season slash line to .258/.356/.455. I may prefer Lindor to Correa for the next 10 years, but that’s because the former’s glove breaks a virtual offensive tie, or maybe even is enough to lift him ahead of the more offensively gifted Correa. No matter what, though, a Correa who more closely resembles last year’s Rookie of the Year is a scary thought for the rest of the American League playoff contenders.
Austin Hedges, C, Padres
We’re admittedly stretching the bounds of the definition of the word “prospect” here. Hedges is no longer a prospect after playing 56 games in the majors last season. He faltered in that stint, hitting .168/.215/.248 in 152 plate appearances. The 23-year-old has spent the entire ‘16 season with Triple A El Paso, but he’s not likely to be there much longer.
Hedges is tearing up the Pacific Coast League, slashing .364/.418/.739 with nine homers, six doubles and 27 RBI in just 26 games. Hedges suffered a fractured hamate bone 10 games into the season, but has been one of the hottest hitters in the PCL since making his return the second week of June. Since coming off the DL, he’s 20-for-53 with seven of his nine homers and 18 RBI.
Baseball Prospectus ranked Hedges the No. 23 prospect in baseball heading into the ’15 season, while he checked in at No. 51 on MLB.com’s list. He spent just 21 games with El Paso last season, but was just as good then as he has been this season. All told, in 47 career games at Triple A, Hedges is a .346/.407/.642 hitter with 11 homers, 14 doubles and 42 RBI. We’ll undoubtedly see him in a Padres uniform at some point this season. Given the state of the catcher position this year, he’ll be fantasy-relevant immediately upon arrival.
GIF of the Week
We’ve come to expect a handful of jump-up-and-shout highlight-reel plays from Kevin Pillar every season. He gave us one such catch last week. Your move, every other outfielder in the majors. This one is going to be tough to top.