The Cleveland Indians had an abysmal left side of the infield to start 2015. Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base were just not cutting it, offensively or defensively. In order to remedy the situation and avoid falling even further behind in the AL Central race, the Indians sent those two down to Triple-A to get more work out of the spotlight and they called up Giovanny Urshela and Francisco Lindor. The latter played way above expectations while the former often looked lost at the plate. Now that the 2015 season -- and their rookie years -- are over, it is time to look ahead to the future for two of the youngest players on the Tribe roster.
When it comes to young players in the dawn of their careers, expectations tend to get out of hand. Whether a young player struggled in his first year or was fantastic in his first year, a fan can point to either and say he is going to be even better the following year. "Look how good he was in just his first year, of course he will be better next season!" -or- "Of course he struggled, he's just a rookie. He'll rebound next year."
In the case of Urshela and Lindor, the Indians have both scenarios about to unfold. Lindor, as you likely know by now, was spectacular in the 99 games he played in a Cleveland uniform last season. He finished the year with a .313/.353/.482 slash (128 wRC+), 12 stolen bases, and a totally unexpected 12 home runs. Urshela, on the other hand, looked like a typical rookie with a bat in his hand (.225/.279/.330, 6 HR).
So, Lindor is going to keep getting awesome-r and Urshela is going to bounce back, right?Well, if you want to go by past performance and projection systems, probably not.
Francisco Lindor 2016 Projections
Giovanny Urshela 2016 Projections
The story is mostly the same for both players: Projection systems see them taking a hit offensively. Lindor's dip is a bit more severe, but only because he was so good last season. He drops from a .353 on-base percentage to an OBP somewhere in the .320's, mostly because he had a ridiculous .348 batting average on balls in play last season; a number that all three projection systems bring down to more realistic levels.
Even performing at this lower level, Lindor would still be better than many thought he would ever be in the majors. In a 2013 post on FanGraphs, writer JD Sussman said Lindor had "burgeoning power," but at that point, he had only six minor-league home runs to his name. In fact, in his entire minor-league career, Lindor hit only 24 home runs. If these projections hold true and he matches the 12 home run output he had in 2015, he will already tie minor league total by the time the 2016 campaign ends. The potential for power may have been there for a while, but Lindor has never actually put it to use until this season.
Once you factor in Lindor's defense, which is worth a dozen more posts all on its own, there is no doubt that Lindor will still be a valuable player in 2016, even if his bat cannot keep him getting on base at a .350 clip. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Giovanny Urshela.
Completely anecdotally, I have seen many more fans willing to say that Francisco Lindor might regress than those willing admit that Urshela may just not be that good offensively. Maybe it is just being blinded his great defense or the fact that he hit a home run in his third game in the majors. Or maybe it is just because he "looks" like a major-league hitter, with his tree-trunk like legs. Either way, there is a litany of reasons -- some of which make more sense than others -- given for why Urshela will bounce back in 2016, but none of them mean he is guaranteed to suddenly be a great hitter. As much as we would all like to see that happen, the truth of the matter is there is not a whole of offense lot to bounce back to.
Similar to Lindor, Urshela is thought of as a glove-first prospect. However, his track record is significantly worse in the minor leagues compared to Frankie. Urshela has had a couple seasons where he flashed power, but not a lot. Other than 14 home runs in 2014 and 13 in 2014, Urshela failed to provide much power in the minors, and his projections reflect that. PECOTA, a system developed by Nate Silver and Baseball Prospectus, is surprisingly optimistic on his power, pegging him for 13 home runs a .148 isolated power rating. ZiPS and Steamer both have him failing to reach double-digit home runs.
None of the projection systems see Urshela getting on base at even a .300 rate, which will be an obvious issue. Urshela has never walked much in the minors -- his best season walk rate was in rookie ball all the way back in 2009 when he walked in 8.4 percent of his plate appearances -- but he did not strike out much either. He managed to strike out in fewer than 20 percent of his at-bats at every level in the minors; it was not until the 81 games last season in the majors where he struck out 20.1 percent of the time. If he can cut down on the strikeouts in a (hopefully) injury-free 2016 season, it would certainly help, but probably not enough to warrant him staying as a full-time starter for 160 games.
It's not all bad news for Urshela, though. For most of his time in the minors, he was an over-aggressive hitter who tended to hit the ball squarely where it was pitched. Not enough in-game adjustments and not a lot of walks meant Urshela was relying solely on his defense, which was not enough to warrant a true shot at the majors. Prior to the 2012 season, Urshela finally began to make the necessary adjustments. He began hitting the ball the other way, and his overall approach improved. And from there he took off on offense, was named the Indians No. 5 prospect heading into 2015, and eventually got the call-up to the majors after slashing .272/.298/.469 in Triple-A. Once he gets comfortable and begins adjusting to opposing pitchers next season, we could start seeing the same Urshela that hit with a slugging percentage well over .450 in the minors between 2014 and 2015.
Seeing Lindor and Urshela struggle next season will quickly bring about the "sophomore slump" trumpets, but just keep in mind that we may just be seeing a more realistic version of the left side of the infield, not necessarily a temporary slump. Lindor's bat probably will not be terrible by any stretch, and his defense will still make him one of the best shortstops in the league. The story of Giovanny Urshela bouncing back could be a triumph or a tragedy, depending on what kind of offense he bounces back to.