Indians shortstop Lindor set to build on strong rookie year
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) On a sun-drenched practice field just behind the Indians' spring training complex, shortstop Francisco Lindor smiles as he waits his turn to field the next grounder.
Across the infield, Cleveland manager Terry Francona flips the baseball in front of him, smacks it hard with his bat and sends it skipping off the grass toward Lindor, the second-year sensation who dazzled as a rookie.
Upon hitting the clay, the ball takes a harsh, skyward hop and is headed toward Lindor's face.
With quick reflexes, he jumps out of the way, avoiding any contact or pain as it sails by.
''Watch your lips,'' hollers Francona, never missing a chance to have a playful moment with his young star.
''They're big enough already,'' he shouts.
Later, Lindor said the moment describes his love for the game, a passion he cherishes.
''I've always been the same little kid, running around, smiling, trying to mess with people a little bit,'' Lindor said. ''I want to do it for the rest of my career.''
And based on his debut last season, Lindor could be embarking on a long, successful one.
In 99 games after being promoted from the minors, the 22-year-old batted .313 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs. He added 12 steals, batted .361 with an MLB-high 78 hits after Aug. 4, made several jaw-dropping plays with his glove and did it all with a blend of youthful enthusiasm and maturity beyond his years.
He finished second in the AL Rookie of The Year voting behind Houston's Carlos Correa, who should be thankful Lindor didn't play a full season in the majors.
''You do forget his age at times,'' said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis.
Lindor believe his duality - the fun-loving kid and the hard-working man - comes directly from his parents.
''My mom's side is really, really happy,''' said Lindor, drafted with the No. eight overall pick by Cleveland in the 2011 draft. ''My dad's side is more of a `I've got a goal, I'm going to go get it.'''
That balance has allowed Lindor to showcase his skills and is why so many in baseball see him as one of the sport's promising young stars.
Francona, who has been around some of the game's greats during a lifetime in baseball and is always careful about heaping too much praise on young players, believes Lindor has Hall of Fame potential.
''There's nothing he can't do,'' Francona said. ''He's a switch-hitter that has speed, hits the ball out of the ballpark and plays very good defense and he's a smart kid. That's a pretty good package. He gets it. We know that he's a good player and he's probably going to end up being, hopefully, a great player.''
Lindor's path to the big leagues wasn't always as smooth as the way he charges a grounder and throws a bullet to first base.
When he was 12, Lindor moved from his childhood home in Puerto Rico to Florida, where he was set to attend Monteverde Academy, a private boarding school.
Having spent his whole life with his parents, it was a new world.
''It was tough because I was young,'' Lindor said. ''I didn't have my mom near me. I didn't have my dad. I had to rely on my teachers. I had to rely on my teammates. I had to rely on my classmates.''
Alone and on his own, Lindor learned to accept responsibility for his mistakes, balance his time and integrate himself into a new group of friends, all while learning English.
Looking back, he feels those tough times prepared him for life in the majors.
''I had to survive on my own,'' Lindor said. ''It helped me to be a better person, be a harder working young man.''
Lindor used those many life lessons as a rookie, and he has no intention of slowing down.
Arriving is not enough for Lindor. He wants much more.
''I'm afraid of not being successful,'' he said. ''I'm afraid of not making my family proud. That's why I work as hard as I can. If I put the time, I put the work in, in the long run, I have to be successful. I'm going to be successful.''
As he enters his second season, Lindor isn't taking anything for granted. He's penciled in as Francona's starting shortstop, but he's treating this spring the same way he did a year ago.
''Last year, I came out here and competed to try to stay on the team and to get better,'' Lindor said. ''This year, I'm going to do the same thing.''