Sports fans love the next big thing. Whether it's a five star QB heading to your favorite college campus, a can't miss hard-throwing future ace pitcher, or a giant rim-protecting center; the enthusiasm is the same. With that enthusiasm comes massive expectations, which often times leads to disappointment.
Francisco Lindor is the Indians next big thing. Lindor is a legitimate top 10 prospect, ranked the 4th best minor league prospect by Baseball Prospectus in 2015. He's a player who projects to head up the middle of the Tribe's infield for years to come.
Lindor's defense is highly touted, with great range and instincts at shortstop. Overall, his hitting has been nothing but solid, especially as he's been one of the youngest guys in many of his stops along the minor leagues. Lindor owns a career slash line of .276/.353/.734 in 1792 plate appearances. This year he's hitting .263/.337/.712 for Triple-A Columbus. Here's highly respected evaluator John Sickels on Lindor's bat:
Lindor's on-base ability helps him make the most out of his speed and I think he should be good for 20 or more steals in a full big league season. Although he's not going to become a home run masher, Lindor isn't punchless. As he matures physically, I suspect he will develop more power than you might think given his size.
If Lindor develops as hoped, I think he can be a .280-.300 hitter with a high on-base percentage, a good number of doubles, 10-15 homers a season at his peak, and 20 or more steals. He's not going to be Troy Tulowitzki, but he should be a very productive long-term regular who contributes in multiple categories.
So what's there to worry about? Long-term -- probably not much. However, the near future is less of a for-sure. While most agree that Lindor has elite skills defensively, he lacks amazing tools offensively. He's fast, but not a burner. He has solid bat speed, but not big power. His approach and contact rate are considered very good, but a career .353 on-base percentage isn't mind-boggling. It likely will take time for him to adjust at the plate against major league pitching.
What about some comps? Take Xander Bogaerts for example, rated the #2 prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus in 2014. Here's Sickels on Bogaerts:
He has the tools and skills to be a complete hitter, producing power, batting average, and on-base percentage. Although he will pull the ball for power, he is far from being a one-dimensional hitter and will hit the ball hard the opposite way when appropriate. He has the bat speed to handle most any fastball, and while he can be fooled with a breaking pitch occasionally, he adjusts rapidly to the pitcher's tactics.
Bogaerts was very young for his minor league levels, just like Lindor, and had better MiLB career numbers, hitting .296/.373/.489. With all that said, he's been disappointing in the majors, struggling to a .244/.302/.362 line over 783 plate appearances. His wRC+ of 82 last year wasn't horrendous, but not what Red Sox fans were expecting.
Looking also at Jurrickson Profar, the super prospect from the Texas Rangers, will bring similar conclusions. Highly-touted prospect (ranked #1 by all the major talent evaluators) who hit well in the minors (astonishingly similar to Lindor) but struggled when given at-bats in the majors.
Ultimately, this is a common theme with prospects, especially young middle infielders. There's a big difference from hitting .275 at Triple-A and then being able to jump in and do that in the majors, especially at 22 or 23 years old. Patience is absolutely a virtue with young prospects. For every Mike Trout there's fifty Brandon Phillips', Xander Bogaerts', Jurrickson Profar's.
Will Lindor disappoint? It all depends on your expectations. If you think he's going to hit right-away like Michael Brantley or Jason Kipnis, then yes, you'll absolutely disappoint. If you're expecting him to be infinitely better with the bat than a Mike Aviles type guy , then yes, likely disappointed again. If, however, you look at recent history and strong comps and assume he'll struggle some at the plate to begin with, possibly hitting something like .250/.300/.320 when called up, then you'll likely be content, with some room for surprise.
The rub is that many Tribe fans think he'll come up and help save the team. He'll lock in and hit around .300, mash some home runs, steal a bunch of bases and play Omar-like defense. He has to, they'll say, because he's the next big thing. If that's case, prepare to be disappointed.