If one is to be judged in part by one's competition, it's a mighty fine time to be a shortstop.
In just the past couple seasons, players like Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez and last year's top pick in the Draft, Carlos Correa, have burst onto the scene. The top five shortstop prospects as ranked by MLB.com all slot within the top 30 prospects overall.
For the purposes of the Carolina League, the name to watch will be Francisco Lindor, the top Indians prospect, the second-ranked shortstop among those five and No. 14 among the top-100 overall. A previous generation of household names like Jeter, Rodriguez and Garciaparra turned shortstop into a glamorous offensive position, handing off to guys like Jose Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki, who in turn begat the current crop of potential power hitters like Profar and Baez. The Mudcats' Lindor, however, is something of a throwback.
The 19-year-old Puerto Rican, you see, is a glove man. And though that's not unheard of (one need only look as far as Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons for a recent example of an exceptional defensive prospect), Lindor has the kind of natural defensive ability, and the natural instincts that could make him the very best in the game at his position in due time.
His defensive grade on the 2-8 scouting scale right now is a 6, which, without any improvement, would make him above average defensively. His future grade, a perfect 8, is what gets scouts dreaming of a future littered with Gold Glove awards.
"He's extremely well-rounded, instinctual as well," said Indians assistant director of player development, Carter Hawkins. "He has outstanding hands, arms and agility. He's one of the most agile guys in the organization in the last 5-10 years in terms of pure physical measurements. Given that, he's able to make almost any play at the shortstop position, and his natural baseball intelligence on top of that makes him a valuable asset.
"His quick feet, decision-making, arm strength, quick hands, his knowledge of the game -- all that allows him to lead the infield as a shortstop and be that field general," Hawkins continued.
Lindor has worked in the past with former Indians infielder Travis Fryman, a great glove man in his own right during a 13-year career that spanned 1990-2002. And he's improved from where he was as a raw natural to the position after Cleveland took him with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
But, as he told MiLB.com in an interview in February, he's going to spare no effort to reach his full potential.
"I feel I'm good at [the position], but I definitely have some work to do. Even, God willing, I play in the bigs for a long time and bring the Indians a lot of championships -- help the Indians to a lot of championships -- I'm still going to be learning then," he said. "I'm going to learn every day, every time I step onto the field."
Lindor's desire to match the results on the field to the tools he possesses, Hawkins said, is plainly evident to the Indians' front office staffers who have had a chance to closely analyze his game.
"I think anyone that's met Francisco and knows the goals he has for himself, how hard he works, the sacrifice, wouldn't be surprised at all [at how good he is]," he noted. "That's certainly something the scouts saw when we drafted him, something the player development guys saw, and it's very indicative of the person he is, how mature he is even at 19. We're not surprised."
Hawkins wouldn't go so far as to compare Lindor to anybody currently in the big leagues, saying, "We just want Francisco to be Francisco," but didn't hold back in admitting that, right now, his glove would play on a Major League diamond.
"I would say he could definitely go to a Major League game. It showed in Spring Training when he played with those guys, no doubt about it," he said. "So yes, we feel like he's Major League ready [defensively]. There's development to be had, absolutely, but hopefully he won't be too long in the Minor Leagues."
The one thing that the 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch-hitter could stand to improve the most is his bat. But for someone who spent the entirety of 2012 in the full-season Class A Midwest League at the age of 18, he held his own. He hit .257 in 122 games, but more impressively, he showed an advanced approach at the plate, walking in 11.1 percent of his plate appearances while striking out just 14.2 percent of the time.
His raw walk total (61) was nearly as high as his raw strikeout total (78). In all, Lindor posted a strong OBP of .355. With quick hands and emerging power that led to 24 doubles, three triples and six homers, it's a strong possibility he'll turn into as dangerous a hitter as he is a fielder.
"You see skills at the upper echelons of the game and guys in his arena, but I haven't seen someone that not only has that skill-set but also the drive to improve as much as Francisco," Hawkins said. "The maturity to understand his game and maximize his potential, from a full package standpoint, is really impressive.
"It's hard to put a definite time frame on anyone, but with his maturity he'll dictate [how fast he moves up] in the near future. He's starting at [Class A Advanced] his year, and certainly guys have started at that level and two years down the road are playing every day in the big leagues."