Chisenhall Running Out of Chances With Tribe
Craig Gifford | On 21, Mar 2014
The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who will need to take his game to the next level.
Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti was on record for saying early in spring training that it was time for third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall to begin taking control of his career.
At 25, Chisenhall may seem a lot older than he is. That is because he has spent parts of the last three seasons in Cleveland as Tribe management has had high hopes for the talented prospect.
A first round pick in the 2008 draft, there is little doubt Chisenhall has the ability to hit. He has hammered Triple-A pitching the last two seasons. The problem is, he has done little to show Indians fans just why the front office has been so patient with him.
That patience may be starting to wear thin. In 2013, the Chiz Kid was granted his best opportunity to take the reins at the hot corner and was unable to. He started the season with the Tribe and never was able to get much going at the plate. After going 0-for-3 on May 12, Chisenhall’s numbers stood at a disappointing three homers, 11 RBI and .222 batting average. The bombs and runs driven in were all collected in April.
Sensing that Chisenhall still had not become acclimated to Major League pitching, the Indians sent him back down to Columbus. It is possible that the lights may have finally turned on for the third baseman on his last demotion.
While in Columbus, all Chisenhall did was dominate opposing pitchers to the tune of a .390 batting average, six home runs and 26 RBI in little over a month’s time.
Upon Chisenhall’s insertion back into the Tribe lineup on June 18, he remained hot, enjoying his best stretch ever as a big leaguer. Between June and July, the 24-year-old batted .270 with four home runs and 12 RBI. It was not a dominant stretch, by any means, but an indication that the young prospect could possibly hang in the Majors.
Just as it seemed he was building himself up, however, August became a nightmare for Chisenhall. He slumped to a .145 average for the month. Still, he showed some mettle, rebounding in September. Chisenhall helped in Cleveland’s push to the postseason, hitting .270 over 37 at-bats in the season’s final month. He also socked three homers, giving him 11 for the year. Between the ups and downs, Chisenhall finished with a .225 batting average. Not good, but he showed in spurts that he could hit Major League hurlers. In the Wild Card game against Tampa, Chisenhall collected three hits as most of the Tribe’s lineup struggled in the shutout loss.
Still, it seems obvious that Cleveland’s front office expected more from the player selected 29th overall in that 2008 amateur draft. In the hopes of finally nailing down a position that has been a trouble spot for the past half a decade, the Tribe started working Carlos Santana and third base over the winter.
Santana, who has spent most of his Major League career at catcher and recently first base, was a third baseman when he first came into the Tribe organization. That the Indians announced Yan Gomes would take over the daily catching duties this year, while Santana would begin the process of converting to third says the team was not happy with things at the hot corner.
Despite having a contingency plan in place, however, the Tribe and manager Terry Francona have said they have not given up on Chisenhall. They would still like to see the young player take control of the position. He is being given every opportunity as Santana to break camp as Cleveland’s starting third baseman.
All the same, when the Cactus League slate got underway, it seemed a long shot that Chisenhall would actually be in the majors on Opening Day. Francona likes to keep an eight-man bullpen. He is able to do so because of bench players like Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, who combine to play every position except catcher. Veteran Jason Giambi was also expected to again be on the Cleveland bench as a part-time designated hitter. The only question left was whether or not the fourth spot on the bench would be filled by a backup catcher or if Santana would fill in as the backup catcher, while someone else was given the last reserve role.
Last week, Giambi injured his ribs, opening up a spot on the bench. It now seems like a strong possibility he will begin the season on the disabled list. It opens the door for someone like Chisenhall to get a shot at starting the year on the big league roster.
Through Tuesday’s action, Chisenhall was having a decent spring, batting .286 in 35 at bats. It is possible he could open the year with the Indians. The question would be in what role. He could be a fill-in at third. However, no matter where he starts the year, it would seem best that he play every day to continue developing into the player he is expected to be. If he opened the year in Cleveland, he could split third base duties with Santana. He and Santana could then rotate at DH with guys like Nick Swisher and Raburn.
There has not been a lot of indication to this point as to the Tribe’s plans at either third base or the last couple spots on the bench. Whatever the case may be, Chisenhall has a chance. Now is the time for him to take that chance. The Chiz Kid has been granted opportunities over the past few years to show what he is capable of. It is likely, at 25, his time to prove he belongs could be running low. It seems like it could be now or never for Chisenhall to take that step to the next level and finally give the Indians the stability they have long sought at third base.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer