If the weather cooperates, Cleveland Indians super prospect Francisco Lindor will make his first Major League start against the Chicago Cubs tonight. The big question for the short term is obvious: can he compete and potentially spark the Indians to a Wild Card push? Answering that is more than a matter if Lindor can catch the ball playing short and put a bat on it at the plate. Both of those attributes, if Lindor can succeed at one or both of them, will certainly prove to help out his teammates as well as the team's win/loss bottom line. In particular, it could help out the Tribe's struggling first baseman, Carlos Santana.
While I'm not a huge believer in the idea that moving around in a lineup can make or break a player, there is no denying that Santana hasn't done well since moving to second in the batting order. In the 30 games since Terry Francona made the move, Santana has a .196/.336/.375 slash (good for only a league-average 105 wRC+), and his home run numbers haven't been quite the same. He's gotten his fair share of walks, because he's still Carlos Santana, but his all-around bat hasn't lived up to expectations,
If there is any truth to mental aspect of moving back in a lineup, maybe putting him back into the cleanup slot -- where he put up a 135 wRC+ earlier in the year --- will help him get back on track. Should the rain hold and the Lindor make the start tonight, that's exactly what will happen. As the lineup was set last night, Lindor was on to be the number two hitter, while Santana was sliding back to cleanup. This likely isn't permanent, considering the Indians are playing an NL team and the lack of a DH reeks all kinds of havoc on an AL lineup that is used to that cushion being available, but there's always a chance.
If Francisco Lindor's defense does translate to the Majors like it's projected to, it would also help Santana out tremendously. Carlos is not a great defensive first baseman as it is, so any help he can get is a big plus. With Lindor's ability to get to the ball and throw it out quicker and more accurately than Mike Aviles or (*shudder*) Jose Ramirez, it could help Santana when he has less wonky bounces to dig out of the dirt coming from the left side of the infield.
Of course a walk-focused first baseman isn't the only player that would benefit from Lindor proving he's worth the unstoppable hype train that has followed him throughout the minors. Another beneficiary would be the pitching staff, who have suffered at the hands of poor defense from the rest of the Indians team all year long.
While it's not a perfect measurement of how bad the Tribe's defense has been, they still have the largest gap between ERA and FIP of any AL team this year. Their 0.55 difference between the two statistics is only 0.01 higher than that of the next team, the Chicago White Sox, the third closest, the Boston Red Sox, are a full 0.10 lower at 0.45. One guy isn't going to make or break a defense, even at shortstop, but between Lindor and Giovanny Urshela, the defense should at least look like it belongs in the Major Leagues for the first time in a full season.
I'm looking forward to seeing Carlos Santana hitting home Francisco Lindor for years to come, and hopefully it starts happening sooner rather than later.