Power hitters are usually easy to identify. Think current players wearing an Indians uniform and Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce check all the boxes. The same with Mike Napoli, Travis Hafner and Mark Reynolds of the recent past.
Big guys who swing hard just in case they hit something. Fans love them when they make contact and make baseballs disappear; boo them when they strike out with their team down by one run with the bases loaded and two out in the ninth.
But what are we to make of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, the two switch-hitters who currently play in the middle of the Tribe’s infield? Lindor isn’t as slight as when the Indians first signed him as a skinny high school senior in 2011, but he still doesn’t look like someone you’d stick in the middle of the lineup for the next 10 years.
Ramirez is thicker and wider than Lindor. A few years ago at one of the team’s offseason strength camps in Goodyear, Ariz., he set the team record for pull ups by such a large margin that the instructors finally told him to stop. Still who could have expected the kind of power season these two have given the Indians?
Tuesday night, with the Indians going for their 20th straight win, Lindor started the first inning with a home run into the left field bleachers. It was his 30th of the season, double the number he hit last year.
Big stage, big moment, but not too big for Lindor. The homer helped the Indians beat the Tigers, 2-0, to tie the Oakland A’s for the longest winning streak in AL history and third longest overall.
Lindor has said all year he’s not a power hitter. He certainly doesn’t look like one, but his stats say something else. J.J. Hardy and Troy Tulowitzki were the last shortstops to hit 30 homers in a season and they each did it in 2011. Lindor is just one of three switch-hitting shortstops in history to hit 30 homers in a season. Jimmy Rollins (2007) and Jose Valentin (2004) are the others.
The eye test says Lindor should be a leadoff hitter, and that’s where he’s been hitting since August. But that hasn’t stopped him from hitting 11 homers right-handed and 19 left-handed. He’s only four behind Encarnacion, who gets paid millions to go deep, and has homered nine times during the 20-game winning streak.
Ramirez has hit 26 homers, 15 more than he hit last year. On Sept. 3 in Detroit, he had five extra base hits, including two homers, just the 13thman in history to do that. On Sept. 4, in Chicago he homered against the White Sox. He homered two more times on Sept. 5 against the White Sox.
Six times Ramirez has hit two homers in one game this season. Three times he’s homered from both sides of the plate in the same game. He’s homered eight times from the right side of the plate and 18 times from the left side.
Built along the lines of the late Kirby Puckett, Ramirez is a wrecking ball when it comes to swinging a bat. While Lindor may be the emerging face of the franchise, Ramirez is a legitimate AL MVP candidate this year.
Lindor is 23. Ramirez turns 25 on Sept. 17. Tuesday night, Lindor homered, Ramirez had two hits and they both made great plays in the field.
For so long the Indians failed to produce their own talent. Now they have two young switch-hitting infielders who play good defense and can hit the ball out of the park. They signed Ramirez to a four-year $26 million extension in spring training. They tried and failed to sign Lindorto a reported $100 million extension around the same time.
The Indians and Lindor have the next four years to try and get something worked out along those lines. If they don’t, well, players come and go. But it would still mean that Indians fans have what remains of this startling season and the next four to watch what Lindor and Ramirez can do together on the field In baseball that’s a long time and should make for some great viewing.
By Paul Hoynes