Elite shortstops helped revitalize Blue Jays, Tribe
Veteran Tulowitzki, youngster Lindor masterful on both sides of ball
By Richard Justice
CLEVELAND -- It seems like only yesterday that Troy Tulowitzki was baseball's new superstar shortstop. He'd grown up watching Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez set the standard for greatness at the position.
Tulowitzki took bits and pieces from all of them and blended them into his game, constructing a career in which he has made five All-Star teams in 11 seasons.
And then one day, Tulowitzki was the 32-year-old veteran others were copying.
"Now I feel like I'm the older guy," Tulowitzki said. "It's crazy how quickly everything goes."
Between Tulowitzki and the Indians' Francisco Lindor, the American League Championship Series (which begins tonight at 8 ET on TBS in the U.S., Sportsnet and RDS in Canada) will be a showcase for two of the game's best shortstops.
The two stars serve as a reminder that the position has never had more talent than it does right now.
"And these are still young guys," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "It's impressive."
Indeed, young guys.
Lindor is just 22 and has had only one full season in the Majors, but he has already established himself as a dazzling player both offensively and defensively. He's got plenty of company. Corey Seager of the Dodgers, Carlos Correa of the Astros and Addison Russell of the Cubs are all also 22 years old.
Remember when front offices just wanted a shortstop who could play defense and weren't concerned with his offense?
Now, shortstop is an offensive position. Tulowitzki was part of that trend. Lindor has continued it.
"I think you see youth coaches putting their best athletes at shortstop," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
At 6-foot-3, Tulowitzki is right out of the Cal Ripken and A-Rod mold of taller, stronger shortstops.
"It's more of an offensive position than it's ever been," Tulowitzki said. "A lot of the guys hit in the middle of the order. I'm glad to be a part of that. I feel I've made it more common for a bigger shortstop to be at the position."
Toronto's roster has been dramatically reshaped over the past 24 months, with as many as 16 of its 25 players arriving in that time. Tulowitzki changed the Blue Jays the moment he stepped onto the field after being acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2015.
"He changed us defensively," Gibbons said. "He got some heat because he wasn't hitting a lot after he arrived.
"But if you watched us play, you could see what he brought to the mix. We just took off."
Tulowitzki's new teammates saw it in a lot of ways.
"He brought a different element of poise and calmness to our club," right fielder Jose Bautista said. "Most of us are the excited, fiery-type player that plays with a lot of emotion and experiences a lot of ups and downs. He's kind of the guy that stays even. It's great to have him in the dugout and clubhouse. If you ever want to talk to someone who keeps it in perspective at all times, he's one of those guys.
"Obviously, his contributions on the field are giving up another middle-of-the-lineup bat. He was an upgrade on the defensive side as well. He has done a terrific job of bringing the elements of his game into our club."
At 5-foot-11, Lindor is a few inches shorter than Tulowitzki, but he helped revitalize the Indians in a similar way. He was one of baseball's most highly touted prospects when he made his debut on June 14, 2015.
The Indians have the third-best record in the AL (146-115) in that time, trailing only the Rangers (150-112) and Blue Jays (149-112).
Lindor batted .207 in his first 22 games, but his .315 batting average in 235 games since is the eighth highest in the Majors.
"He reminds me of a young Jose Reyes as far as the excitement he brings to the field," Tulowitzki said. "He can do it all."
Lindor's teammates agree.
"It's just how smooth and under control he is in a lot of aspects of his game that's so impressive," Kipnis said. "He just glides. He's a very quick learner, and the moment doesn't get too big for him. He has a right way of approaching the game."
One of the lessons Mark Belanger, Ripken's mentor, passed down to the Hall of Famer was to pay attention to the other players at his position and figure out what parts of their game he could blend into his own.
"But since we had fewer games on television, there weren't that many opportunities," Ripken said. "When I watch these guys now, you can tell they pay attention to what each other is doing."
"Oh definitely," Lindor said. "Every guy does things a little bit differently, and there are always things you can learn."
This ALCS will be an opportunity for Lindor and Tulowitzki to watch and learn from one another. For the rest of us, it will be great entertainment.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.