GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Francisco Lindor quietly sat on the stool in front of his locker in the clubhouse of the Cleveland Indians spring training complex, listening intently to the guy who’d just plopped down next to him and was loudly chattering away.
The person the Indians’ No. 1 prospect (according to Baseball America) was smiling widely at and listening intently to was former Tribe second baseman Carlos Baerga, who’s in camp with the Indians as a guest instructor.
Invited to his first big league camp since being the Tribe’s first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2011, Lindor is happy to just blend in and soak in as much wisdom from the players — past and present — that he can.
“I want to learn as much as I can from these guys in here,” he said. “About priorities, life, baseball — everything. Then incorporate it into my game. I don’t talk a lot. I just listen. Here, you gotta know your place. Once I’m back in the minor leagues and I know everyone, I’ll start talking again. But here … “
Lindor didn’t finish the sentence. Instead, he just flashed a wide grin and used a hand as if he were zipping his mouth shut.
After spending the offseason rehabbing a nagging back injury that cut his season short last year, Lindor’s healthy and ready to build on last season’s momentum. After opening the year hitting .340 at high Class-A Carolina, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound shortstop was promoted to Double-A Akron.
Although Lindor, 20, handled the challenge at the next level in stride, he played in only 21 games (batting .289) before the pain in his lower back on the right side sidelined him for the rest of the season.
“It’d been bothering me since May, all the inflammation,” said Lindor, who will likely open the 2014 season in Akron, but could move quickly to Triple-A Columbus with another hot start. “All the lifting, rotation from swinging. I was playing through it, then at the end, I just had to give up. It needed rest. There was no sense in pushing it at that point.”
That might be the first and last time anyone ever hears Lindor utter the words “give up.”
After calling it a season, Lindor didn’t head home to central Florida. Instead, he went to the Indians’ complex in Goodyear, Ariz., where he spent a month and a half rehabbing his back and strengthening his core.
When he did finally head home to spend time with family and friends, the Indians kept a close eye on him.
“The rehab coordinator came to visit me and during the winter meetings, (farm director) Ross Atkins and (assistant farm director) Carter Hawkins stopped by to check on me and saw me work out to make sure I was OK,” he said.
Now healthy and ready to resume his climb to the major leagues, Lindor is quietly leaning on guys such as Tribe shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
“He’s a really good player, a young kid,” Cabrera said. “He’s got everything he needs to play this game now.”
Asked if Lindor reminded Cabrera of himself as a 20-year old player, Cabrera shook his head.
“No, no,” he said. “He’s really good. I don’t think I was like that. I didn’t have the conditioning he has right now when I was 20 years old. He can play here a long time.”
Even though Lindor is the heir apparent to his position, Cabrera doesn’t mind playing the role of mentor this spring.