The Cleveland Indians are preparing to move Francisco Lindor from the lead-off spot this season.
Not much changed for Francisco Lindor when he reported for Cleveland Indians summer camp. He’s still the same exuberant, colorful personalty he’s always been, sporting his blue hair and doing cartwheels while crossing the plate following home runs. But what will change in the 2020 season is where he fits in the Indians’ lineup.
Manager Terry Francona revealed on Sunday that Lindor will bat third in the order this season, according to MLB.com’s Mandy Bell, with Cesar Hernandez moving to the leadoff spot. Lindor hit lead-off in 141 of his 143 games last season, and he last hit third in the order on May 2, 2018, against the Texas Rangers.
Lindor, entering his sixth season in the big leagues, was a regular in the third spot in 2016, batting .301 as the Indians came a game away from winning the World Series. At the time, he was known more for his ability to make contact than his power, hitting just 15 home runs in 158 games. But over the last three seasons, Lindor has developed into one of the best power hitters in baseball.
Moving to third in the lineup will give him more opportunities to utilize that power. While he’s 10th in the Majors since 2017 in home runs, he ranks only 34th in RBI. He hit 32 home runs from the lead-off spot last season, behind only the Astros’ George Springer, the Braves’ Ronald Acuna and the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson. But only seven of those home runs came with a runner on base. Now that he’ll have Hernandez and Jose Ramirez batting ahead of him, those homers will translate into more runs scored for the Indians lineup in 2020.
Hernandez joined the Indians as a free agent after spending the first six years of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. The 30-year-old second baseman gives the Indians speed and an ability to get on base. He’s twice stolen 19 bases in a season and has a .353 on-base percentage over the last three seasons. Ramirez didn’t quite match his 2017 and 2018 seasons, when he was an American League MVP candidate, in 2019 but he did hit .327 in the second half.
That Lindor would still be on the Indians this year wasn’t a foregone conclusion during the offseason. With two years of team control left, Lindor will likely command a lucrative deal when he hits the open market in 2022. The Indians, with the sixth-lowest payroll in the league, can ill afford to offer him such a big contract and have explored the possibility of trading their superstar. Lindor cut off talks about an extension with the Indians in March, preferring instead to focus on the season, even when the circumstances of that season changed dramatically.
“I’m happy and excited to be able to play the game,” Lindor said last week at the start of camp. “It seems like we are on the right path and the guys are very in to following the guidelines, understanding what’s happening, understanding the risk we’re taking. We all seem like we’re going to be in a good spot.”
The Indians will get to enjoy Lindor batting in the middle of their lineup for 2020. How long he remains there, however, is still a question they have to find an answer to.