Francisco Lindor is the Indians' top prospect according to every major outlet there is and the consensus choice as best defensive shortstop in any team's system. He only turned 20 two months ago, but his glove would probably be an upgrade for more than half the teams in baseball already.
Asdrubal Cabrera's continued presence on the team means Lindor isn't going to be playing shortstop at Carnegie and Ontario come Opening Day, but Cabrera will be gone a year from now, maybe sooner. Lindor is the shortstop of the future, and the future is approaching rapidly. How rapidly? When might Lindor make his MLB debut?
If Lindor bats even once in 2014, he'll be the youngest Indian to do so since Jay Bell appeared in 5 games back in 1986. If he were to come up early enough to play in 50 games, he'd be only 5th Indian to do that in his age-20 season, and the first since Rick Manning in 1975.
Lindor has only played in 21 games above Single-A. He finished 2013 with Double-A Akron, and will almost certainly begin 2014 there, and unless he's really dominating the league right out of the gate, it seems likely he'd be kept there til at least the All-Star break, at which time a promotion would be more likely. That means if he comes to Cleveland for anything more than a September cup of coffee, he'd probably be skipping Triple-A entirely, or spend less than a month there. Does that happen often?
I don't know how to quantify "often," but here are the MLB position players from recent years (2006-2013) who debuted during their age-19 or 20 season after spending less than a month in Triple-A and then got 60+ plate appearances that season:
- Mike Trout (age-19 season, 0 Triple-A games)
- Manny Machado (age-19 season, 0 Triple-A games)
- Justin Upton (age-19 season, 0 Triple-A games)
- Bryce Harper (age-19 season, 21 Triple-A games)
- Starlin Castro (age-20 season, 0 Triple-A games)
- Elvis Andrus (age-20 season, 0 Triple-A games)
- Giancarlo Stanton (age-20 season, 0 Triple-A games)
- Jason Heyward (age-20 season, 3 Triple-A games)
- Travis Snider (age-20 season, 18 Triple-A games)
It does happen, but it's pretty rare, only 9 players over the last 8 seasons. It's worth pointing out that 3 of those 9 were shortstop prospects* (the other 6 were outfielder), so Lindor is playing a position where there's some recent precedent for the kind of move that would get him to Cleveland for more than the last week or two of the season, after rosters are expanded to 40 players and Minor League season have ended.
*Also, missing the list, but coming close: shortstop Jurickson Profar, who debuted during September of 2012 (his age-19 season) without ever playing in Triple-A. He only appeared in 9 games for Texas, then played 37 games at Triple-A to start 2013 before getting called back up to Texas (in his age-20 season).
As I said, Lindor's defense is rated as highly as any player in recent years, so there's no doubt about him being able to perform an a Major League level in that area, but what about his bat?
Here are the Minor League OPS figures for each of the shortstops mentioned above, in their age-19 season:
I can't tell you anything about park factors, etc., but it seems like Lindor holds his own as a hitter compared to other shortstops who've made the jump at his age.
If I were betting on it, I'd bet against Lindor arriving in Cleveland for anything more than a few games in September. It would take a Cabrera trade to open up a spot for him (because he's not going to get called up to watch from the bench), and if the Indians trade Cabrera it would likely mean the team is struggling, and so they might as well delay Lindor's service time and let him get in a few more reps at Akron and/or Columbus.
But... Lindor does fit one of the main profiles for players who arrive in MLB at such a young age, with so little experience at the highest levels of Minor League Baseball, so if you had to pick one baseball prospect so young to be called up in July, Lindor would be as good (or better) a choice as anyone.