Does Lindor’s promotion change his timetable to the majors?

After starring in the Futures Game as a representative of the Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor won’t be in North Carolina for long. Lindor, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2011, will be leaving Carolina behind in favor of Akron and the Double-A Eastern League. But what does this midseason promotion do for Lindor’s arrival in Cleveland?

Estimating when a prospect arrives in the majors can be tricky. The numerous variables at play can be unpredictable and unstable. Prospects are an unpredictable breed, so trying to estimate how they will progress in their late teens and early 20s can be about as easy as predicting the weather in south Florida. At the moment, I’m learning to do both, and just hoping to figure out one.

In the case of Lindor, we have no idea how he will hit in Double-A. We know his defense will be solid, but there’s no way to know how any young hitter will hit at whatever next level he’s heading to, whether it be making the jump from high school to college, college to the pros, high school to the pros, or just from one minor league level to another. As I discussed a few weeks ago, the jump from A-ball to Double-A can be the toughest on hitters, who are now going up against pitchers with a better plan and more refined breaking pitches.

All we can do is continue to project players over the course of the trajectory they are currently on until they give us a new set of coordinates for which to aim. In this case, the Indians changed the coordinates based on Lindor’s play this season.

Before this season, we had no choice but to project Lindor’s ascent to the majors as one that could require a full season at each minor league level, because that’s what he had done in his one full season as a professional. The Indians left Lindor alone last season at Low-A Lake County, where he held his own but didn’t star offensively. They moved him up this season as expected, but likely planned to let him spend the entire season in Carolina if need be. After all, even a full season at every minor league level would have put him in the majors at 21 at the end of the 2015 season or at 22 sometime in 2016. We’ve been spoiled by Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Manny Machado, but a high school draft pick needing four years in the minors is far from abnormal.

But this promotion appears to have sped up that timetable.

Once a player is in Double-A, anything can happen. Some organizations are liberal about promoting prospects straight from Double-A. Others are more methodical about making sure their prospects hit every rung on the organizational ladder on the way to the top. Either way, it looks like we’ll be seeing Lindor in Cleveland long before 2016.

I’d be surprised to see Lindor in the majors this year. As long as Asdrubal Cabrera is still in town, rushing Lindor is unnecessary. Rumors have surrounded the possibility of trading Cabrera since last offseason, but with the Indians contending, it’s unlikely that an opening will be created for Lindor during this season.

Depending on how Lindor hits the remainder of this season in Akron, the Indians could move Cabrera in the offseason to create room for him, but there’s still plenty of time for this to work itself out. Even if Lindor catches fire for two months in Double-A, the Indians can still justify sending him back to Triple-A next year at age 20. What this promotion does, however, is make it probable that Lindor sees the majors at some point in 2014.

Of course, this could all change again between now and then. Perhaps Double-A will be the test that finally challenges Lindor offensively, and he ends up needing more time there than we expect. That could delay his arrival until 2015. Or perhaps he steps his game up even further and forces the Indians’ hand this winter. We simply don’t know.

What we do know with this promotion is that he won’t be needing a full year at each minor league level, which allows us to project him getting to the majors before his 22nd birthday and before 2016. But much like the weather, much can change between now and then.

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