Lindor throwing baseball

Columbus Clippers fans should have plenty to ring their bells about this season. Our hometown heroes are loaded this year, and it promises to be a fun summer of baseball at Huntington Park. The Cleveland Indians' AAA affiliate is stocked with an abundance of talent, and should score runs by the boatload. But there is one very special reason to head to the ballpark this summer. The team features the crown jewel of the Tribe's farm system, 21-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor. The 8th overall pick of the 2011 Major League draft, Lindor has made a rapid progression through Cleveland's farm system, and will complete his baseball undergrad work right here in Columbus. The switch-hitting Puerto Rican has been rated as high as number four among all minor-league prospects by various scouting services.
  Indians fans have been hearing so much about Lindor for so long that many wonder why he isn't with the team already. Few realize that he won't turn 22 until after the season ends, and entered the 2015 season with only 38 games at the AAA level under his belt. Now in his fifth professional season, he is the youngest player on the team's roster, as he has been at every level throughout his career. Lindor batted .273 with five home runs and 14 RBI with the Clippers following his promotion from AA Akron in July. He has hit well at every level, exhibited speed on the bases, stealing 80 in his last three seasons, and has dazzled in the field, showing off an arm and glove that have long been deemed major-league ready. The one thing Lindor has yet to develop is power, but scouts expect that the home runs will come as the 5-11, 190-pound youngster continues to grow and mature.
  Lindor was invited to big league camp with the Indians in spring training and made a very impressive showing, but team officials made it clear from the start that he would begin the season in Columbus. With ex-Clipper Jose Ramirez taking over for the departed Asdrubal Cabrera at short and turning in a fine rookie campaign, the Indians are in no rush to bring Lindor to the majors. That's good news for Clippers fans, who will get to enjoy watching a future star in the making. At least for awhile.
  How long has it been since there was this big a buzz in Columbus over such a highly-regarded, can't miss phenom like Lindor? “I think most people would probably go back and say a young shortstop in 1994-95 by the name of Derek Jeter,” says Clippers President and General Manger Ken Schnacke.
  While no one is quite predicting Lindor will go on to a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame career like the one Jeter put the finishing touches on last year, the sky appears to be the limit for the Clipper star, whose arrival last summer sparked a noticeable uptick in fan interest. “Today everyone pays a lot more interest in young prospects than they did a decade or so ago,” said Schnacke. “He's a young man with a lot of talent...he just needs some more repetitions and to fine tune his game. He'll certainly be Major League-ready sometime during this season.”
  Lindor got off to a slow start with the Clippers this season but has been on a tear of late, raising his batting average to over .300 and stealing six bases in his first 17 games. Not coincidentally, the Clippers have also rebounded from a slow start to rise to the top of the International League's West Division.
  As good as Lindor is, there is a lot more to like about this year's Clippers team. First baseman Jesus Agular is back after putting up impressive numbers with the team last year, batting .304 with 19 homers and 77 RBI. Agular transitioned seamlessly to the AAA level last year after wrecking the AA Eastern League at Akron in 2013, driving in a whopping 105 runs, an extraordinary feat for a minor league player. Agular returns to Columbus after nearly making the big league club out of spring training.
  Nicknamed “El Jefe,” the strapping Venezuelan gives the unbalanced, predominately lefty-hitting Tribe something it badly needs – a right-handed power bat. The only problem is, he has plenty of talent blocking his path to the big leagues, as the Indians are set at first for the foreseeable future with Carlos Santana. Even an injury to Santana wouldn't guarantee Agular's promotion, with Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher also experienced at the position. Agular made his big league debut with the Indians last year but never got into a groove, managing only four singles in 33 at bats. The 24-year old slugger should put up huge numbers while taking out his frustrations on AAA pitchers in his second full season in the International League.
  Fans can also see some experienced Major League talent in Clipper pinstripes for the time being. Zach Walters showed great power potential in his brief time with Cleveland last year, after arriving from Washington in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade. The versatile 25-year-old switch-hitter was being groomed in spring training for a “super utility” role, but a strained oblique landed him on the DL. He joined the Clippers on a rehab assignment in late April and is playing multiple positions. He hit .387 (12 for 31) in seven games for Columbus last season.
  The Indians signed veteran pitcher Bruce Chen this Spring for depth. Chen failed to make the Indians out of spring training, but perhaps sensing an opportunity down the road with the Tribe accepted a minor-league deal. The quintessential “crafty lefthander,” the 37-year-old soft-tossing southpaw has had a fine Major League career that has spanned 16 seasons. The native of Panama has pitched in the majors with the Braves, Phillies, Mets, Expos, Reds, Astros, Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers and Royals, with whom he had his best success. From 2010 to 2013, Chen won 44 games for KC, and went 9-4 with an ERA of 3.27 in 2013. He started the season opener for the Clippers, tossing six innings of shutout ball for his first minor-league win since 2009. He provides insurance for the Indians rotation and veteran leadership for the Clippers. Oh, and he has a great Twitter handle too – ChenMusic.
  And then there's Swisher. The ex-Buckeye outfielder/first baseman had surgery on both knees during the offseason, and is also rehabbing in Columbus and hitting well.
  Tribe catcher Yan Gomes is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a strained knee, and pitcher Josh Tomlin even longer with his sore shoulder. Both will do a rehab assignment, most likely in Columbus, sometime this season.
  More new faces will be joining the Clippers throughout the season. When Lindor is finally summoned to Cleveland, expect shortstop Erik Gonzalez to move up from Akron to take his place. The 23-year-old Dominican is biding his time at the AA level, although under normal circumstances he would probably already be playing at AAA. 22-year-old catcher Tony Wolters also starts the season with the RubberDucks, but the converted infielder is on the fast track and may well move up to the Clippers yet this year. Cody Anderson, 24, has pitched for Akron since 2013 and may be on the way as well. Anderson, Gonzalez and Wolters are all on the Indians' 40-man roster.
  For now, though, the main attraction is Lindor. Clipper fans have a rare opportunity to watch a future superstar in the making. But don't wait too long, or you might miss him. 

Appears in Issue: