Mudcats' rising star Lindor turns heads with glove, bat

csmith@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2013 

Francisco Lindor is a shortstop for the Carolina Mudcats.

NIKOLAUS – CAROLINA MUDCATS

Growing up, Francisco Lindor wanted to be just like Omar Vizquel, the flashy three-time All-Star shortstop who won 11 gold gloves.

Now, at age 19, Lindor is drawing comparisons to his idol with the Carolina Mudcats in the Cleveland Indians farm system – the same franchise Vizquel played 11 seasons for and won nine consecutive gold gloves with.

“To draw comparisons to players like that is just an honor for me,” Lindor said Friday, hours before the Mudcats opened a seven-game homestand. “I wanted to grow up and be like him and Roberto Alomar, so it’s just crazy to be compared to either of them. That’s just huge for me.”

Lindor, a first-round draft pick in 2011, entered the season as the No. 14 prospect, according to MLB.com, and his .968 fielding percentage from last season earned him a spot on their defensive gems team.

Baseball America thinks so highly of Lindor that it named him the Indians’ top prospect and projected him eventually push Indians starting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, a two-time All-Star, to second base.

While his defense alone is good enough to keep him in the lineup – as it was for Vizquel – Lindor spent the offseason working on the rest of his game.

“I’ve just always wanted to make sure I get better at every aspect of the game,” Lindor said. “I know a lot of people know me as a great shortstop, but I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win. One day I could go 4-for-4 and the next go 0-for-4, but if I did something to help the team win, I’m happy.”

Lindor has improved in every aspect this season, but the growth is most evident at the plate. The 5-11 infielder is hitting .352 with a .915 OPS through the first 32 games – a far cry from the .257/.707 clip that he put up in 2012.

The Puerto Rico native has also been torching the base paths. Lindor has eight stolen bases, but what really jumps out are his four triples, one more than his total last season.

When asked to compare his Lindor to another player, Mudcats manager David Wallace was hard pressed to name anyone with his ability.

“That’s really tough for me, and I mean that as a compliment to him,” he said. “If I had to compare him to someone, it would be (four-time All-Star catcher) Victor Martinez … because of his maturity, work ethic and his presence. They really remind me of each other.

“But there aren’t a whole lot of guys who can do what he does.”

The maturity that Wallace spoke about has come in handy in the locker room as Lindor is the youngest player on the Mudcats. Despite his age, teammate and friend Tyler Naquin said he is one of the leaders.

“He’s a special player and guys like that don’t come around that often,” he said. “He’s young and always has a good approach. That’s something that a lot of us can learn from because he always has a positive attitude.”

Naquin, who bats at the top of the lineup, added that, “having his bat behind me is huge. I know that when I get on, he’s going to bunt me over or get me in scoring position. We both have the ability to turn singles into doubles, so it’s hard for pitchers to put either of us on.”

Whether he reminds fans of Vizquel or Alomar or they’re left struggling to find another player like him, Mudcats fans will get a chance to see a player who could soon be donning the same jersey as his childhood idols.

Smith: 919-829-4841

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