Francisco's Lindor's name has come up a lot this off-season. From being involved in a possible trade for Tampa Bay's David Price to being the reason that the Indians are interested in trading Asdrubal Cabrera. Of course, the underlying question behind any of these discussions is when will he be ready to play in the Major Leagues. Lindor ended last season in AA after playing most of the season for the Advanced A Mudcats. He is currently expected to begin 2014 in Columbus, but the question is, could he possibly start the season for the Indians and if he can't, when will he get the call?
It seems unquestionable that Lindor will make his debut in 2014, the question is just when. The first thing to do is to compare Lindor to the rise of the Indians' recent short stops. Cabrera was obviously the most recent, but it is hard to compare their situations. Cabrera was already in his third season in AAA in 2007 when he made the jump after 112 games at that level in 2006. While Cabrera was called up during a play-off run, he was called up as a second baseman when the Indians had none. Lindor doesn't have that option as Jason Kipnis will be around for a long time still. Comparing numbers, in the season prior to his promotion (2006), Cabrera batted .249/.310/.349 in AAA. Last season, Lindor batted .289/.407/.395. Despite the fact that Cabrera skipped AA, Lindor is still ahead in his progression by age 19.
There is a much better comparison, just going back a few more years. In 2002, Jhonny Peralta was a 20 year old short stop in AA, almost identical to Lindor's situation, although he was a better hitter and worse fielder. That year, Peralta hit .281/.343/.457 and cemented himself as Omar Vizquel's replacement. The following season, Vizquel was injured and Peralta filled in solidly, playing 77 games and knocking in 21 runs. In the end, he had a better offensive season than Omar, but was back in AAA the following season when Vizquel was able to play unhurt. Back to the present, if Cabrera is traded at any point, this is the situation that will likely happen. Especially if it is a deadline deal, Cabrera would play the first half of the season and Lindor would finish it out. The biggest difference is that Cabrera will not be coming back, whether he is traded or leaves in free agency, so Lindor will not have to relinquish his spot.
The problem with this is, as the days go on during the off-season, it is less likely that Cabrera will be traded prior to the season starts. If he isn't, it is unlikely he would be gone before mid-July. Based simply on personnel already on the roster, it is very unlikely for Lindor to be brought up with Cabrera still on the roster. He wouldn't be immediately better than Mike Aviles, so he would actually hurt the team if he started taking Aviles' at bats. Anyone who has seen him play already knows that Lindor is a better defender than Cabrera, but with $10M already owed to Cabrera for 2014, he won't be moving for anything. If Lindor can't get regular at bats at the Major League level, there is little reason for him to skip his AAA season.
A good sign for Lindor is that his on base percent has increased every season since being drafted in 2011. This increase in OBP combined with a yearly decrease in strike outs shows a maturity at the plate beyond his years. This is very important prior to a transition to the Majors as facing Major League pitching is exponentially harder than AA. By playing better at every level, Lindor inspires the confidence that he will be able to maintain this trend into AAA and the Majors. Essentially, he has a Major League ready eye and intelligence on the base paths (25 SB, 7 CS in 2013), but doesn't bring much as far as power is concerned.
While it has been stated that Lindor is ready defensively and is better than Cabrera, this statement needs to be qualified. Lindor has the kind of Web Gem natural talent that most infielders can only dream of. He has excellent range and can turn a very impressive double play. However, he is prone to mistakes. His increased range (over his short career he has got to 0.24 more balls per game than Cabrera) is likely some of the culprit, but just getting to the ball isn't enough in the Majors. A little time in AAA to start the season would be a great opportunity to work on his arm and become a more dependable defender before being put under the spot light as a Major League shortstop.
The answer to the initial question of "when will we see Lindor in an Indians uniform?" comes in two parts, "is he Major League ready?" and "would the Indians bring him up even if he was?" Right now, the answer to both of these questions is no, but ask again in a few months. The most likely situation right now is not one Indians fans want to hear, but is one of caution. If nothing changes, Lindor will lead the Columbus Clippers to the International League title then join the Indians in September, where he would be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Of course, things are always changing. If Cabrera gets hurt, Lindor could Wally Pipp him into a lengthy career. If Cabrera gets traded, he would go from an expected pinch runner in September to a starter in July. While this might be the most exciting outcome, the Indians would almost certainly be better served if they waited just a little longer. Lindor will be the starting short stop in 2015, there is no reason to push things along too quickly.