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 recently. “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. He and the Mudcats will finish up a homestand with games against Wilmington (Del.) May 29-30.
Baseball America thinks so highly of Lindor that it named him the Indians’ top prospect and predicted he would 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 around – 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 .324 with a .846 OPS through the first 44 games – a far cry from the .257, .707 clip he put up in 2012.
The Puerto Rico native has eight stolen bases and four triples, one more than last season’s total.
When asked to compare Lindor to another player, Mudcats manager David Wallace had trouble naming anyone else 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 has come in handy in the Mudcats locker room, where Lindor is the youngest player. In spite of his age, teammate and friend Tyler Naquin said Lindor 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.
“Having his bat behind me is huge,” Naquin, who bats at the top of the lineup, added. “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 them of Vizquel or Alomar or they’re left struggling to think of a comparison, Mudcats fans will see a player who could soon be donning the same jersey as his childhood idols.