Indians break tradition, pick athletic prep Lindor

Indians break tradition, pick athletic prep Lindor

CLEVELAND -- Tim Layden begins speaking a mile a minute when asked about the defensive ability of shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Layden was Lindor's high school coach at Montverde Academy in Florida. Lindor was Layden's team leader -- whether by voice, bat or glove. And what a glove. In rapid-fire fashion, Layden begins to rattle off the type of plays the young shortstop has made in the field.

They are the kind of plays that Lindor -- selected eighth overall by the Indians during Monday's First-Year Player Draft -- will perhaps make up the middle in Cleveland some day. Backhanded stabs in the hole. Diving catches up the middle. Throws like missiles.

"He had one," said Layden, pausing as he began to recall one of the athletic Lindor's more memorable plays.

The opponent was West Orange High School. The hitter was the school's fastest player, Auston Bousfield. The play -- with two outs and the tying run on third base -- was a chopper that bounced through the grass past the mound, skipping just out of range of Monteverde's pitcher.

Enter Lindor.

"He comes in," Layden said. "He barehands it, takes two steps, dives and in mid-air throws the guy out. He ended up sliding and doing a somersault four feet from the first-base foul line. It was the best play I've ever seen a shortstop make."

That is a nice compliment from a high school coach. It is worth noting, however, that Layden spent seven years as a pitcher in the professional ranks. He was a sixth-round Draft pick of the Cubs in 2004. Layden has seen his share of shortstops -- some with a future in the game and others without.

The Indians believe Lindor, who will turn 18 in November, has the potential to develop into an impact player at shortstop one day. Selecting him is a risk, and his path to the Major Leagues will likely be gradual. Cleveland believes picking a prep star, in this case, was a risk worth taking.

"It's not often," said Brad Grant, the Indians director of amateur scouting, "that we go and scout high school players that we have the ability to say, 'This guy can play shortstop at the Major League side of things.' Often times, we go with the phrase, 'We think he can stay at short.'

"In this case, it's, 'This guy can play shortstop.' It's the intangibles. The instincts and the way he plays the game are pretty special."

Lindor told MLB.com recently that his older brother, Miguel, and his cousin, Christian -- both shortstops in the past -- served as motivation throughout his youth. Especially when it came to his brother, Lindor wanted to one day be show that he was the superior defender at short.

"My brother used to be a shortstop," Lindor said recently. "I would try to compete against him -- he's older than me. They had more range because they were older than me. That made me focus on getting that range to get better than them.

"They're good, but I've moved past them."

And Lindor kept advancing at an incredible rate.

"I always worked hard," he said. "I don't just work hard in one aspect of the game. To be a successful baseball player, you have to work on defense and offense. I work on every aspect of the game -- the little things. They're going to help me."

For the Indians, it was Lindor's ability to remain at shortstop that convinced the organization that the time had come to break tradition. In each of the past nine Drafts, Cleveland took a collegiate player with its top selection. The Tribe had not taken a high school position player with its top pick since 2000.

As things currently stand, Lindor is committed to Florida State University, though the Indians might have gone in a different direction if there were signability questions. The last date to sign Draft picks is Aug. 17 and the Indians know Lindor's dream is to play professionally.

"He wants to play pro ball," Grant said. "Baseball has been his life."

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at noon ET Tuesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player.

You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Cleveland is a team that craves information before making its decisions, and the club did all it could to make sure Lindor was worth being taken in the first round. For the past 2 1/2 years, the Indians monitored the switch-hitting shortstop closely in high-profile events and tournaments.

The Indians also spent a lot of time getting to know Lindor.

Grant saw Lindor firsthand. Area scout Mike Soper, who oversees South Florida and Puerto Rico, spent the most time with the young shortstop.

"You've got a special kid, makeup-wise," Grant said. "Every time we talk to him, every time we're with him, we just walk away more and more impressed."

Playing a role in that is Lindor's journey to Draft day.

Lindor's father -- once a semi-pro ballplayer himself -- recognized his son's ability at an early age. When Lindor was 12, he moved to from Puerto Rico to Florida in order to face better competition while pursuing his dream of playing in the Major Leagues.

"They made a lot of sacrifices for him to come over here," Grant said. "And he's lived up to all the sacrifices that his family has made."

Lindor spoke no English when he arrived to the United States and enrolled at Montverde, a boarding school north of Orlando that draws its students from around the globe. Now, Lindor is bilingual and -- the way Layden tells it -- a natural-born leader.

"He was the leader on our team without question," Layden said. "There were several times where guys on the team were kind of getting a little lost in the fact that we had 100 scouts at the game.

"It wasn't me. It wasn't anybody else. He took everybody on the side and said, 'Listen, we can't let this affect the way we play on the field.'"

Lindor enjoys taking on that role.

"It's definitely important to be a leader," he said. "It's not like I want to take over, but it's important to be a leader as a shortstop. That's in me. That's part of me.

The extra attention his team received certainly did not hurt Lindor's play.

Lindor began hitting from both sides in ninth grade and batted .528 (28-for-53) this season with six home runs, seven doubles and two triples. Lindor compiled 13 RBIs, stole 20 bases in 21 chances and crossed home plate on 32 occasions.

"They both stand out for us," said Grant, referring to Lindor's offense and defense. "But, obviously, his defense is what makes him special in our eyes."

The Indians view Lindor as a gap-to-gap batter whose strength will be hitting for average and utilizing his speed.

"It's a line-drive approach," Grant said. "When he's working the ball back up the middle, that's when he's at his best. But again, he's got the ability to drive the ball into the gaps. He's got the ability to drive the ball from both sides. But power's not going to be his game."

Layden lets out a slight chuckle.

"We hit him leadoff and asked him to hit," Layden said. "If I would've put him in the four hole and told him to just turn and grind, hit the ball out of the yard, he probably would've had 25 home runs."

"People think I don't have power because I'm not 6-4, 220," Lindor said. "But I have some power. I think I'm capable of hitting the ball out."

At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Lindor certainly still has some room to grow and perhaps some power to add. The shortstop has already displayed some pop, too. In 2010, when Lindor was still only 16 years old, he won a home run hitting contest during the Aflac All-American Game in San Diego's PETCO Park.

Asked which batter's box Lindor was standing in that day, Grant smiled.

"He did it left-handed," he replied.

The Indians can only hope that this summer's pick continues the club's recent string of strong first-round Draft choices.

A year ago, Cleveland took left-hander Drew Pomeranz (fifth overall), who has been dominating (58 strikeouts over 43 3/2 innings) Carolina League competition for Class A Kinston. In 2009, the Tribe settled on righty Alex White (15th overall), who reached to the Majors this season, where he is 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts.

Lindor is the first position player picked up by the Indians in the first round since the organization selected Lonnie Chisenhall with the 29th-overall pick in 2008. Chisenhall is currently manning third base for Triple-A Columbus and could be doing the same for Cleveland before the end of the summer.

The past four Drafts have been overseen by Grant and, under his watch, Cleveland's farm system has developed into one of the best in baseball. This year's Draft, however, is the first under the guidance of new general manager Chris Antonetti.

As far as Layden and the Indians are concerned, Lindor is the real deal.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.