Chisenhall May Deserve a Full-Time Look
Craig Gifford | On 02, May 2014
For the past three years, Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall has been baseball’s equivalent of a yo-yo. He has been up and down between Cleveland at Triple-A Columbus on numerous occasions.
Chisenhall, since his first call up in 2011, has shown flashes of what made him the 29th overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft. However, at times, he has been frustrating to watch, as though he forgot how to hit somewhere on the two hour trip from Ohio’s capitol.
Through the aggravations that Indians fans have felt, one thing that may have been lost is that Chisenhall is only now 25-years-old. That means he was playing Major League Baseball at 22. Few players are able to hit their stride that young, which is what makes a player like Mike Trout all the more amazing.
Still, entering this spring, there was the growing sensation that Chisenhall may be on his last, or one of his last, leg. The Tribe had catcher and first baseman, Carlos Santana spend the offseason relearning third base. Santana was at the hot corner when he first entered the Cleveland organization, but was moved to catcher to fill a team need.
Moving Santana back to third appeared to be a sign that Cleveland’s brass was becoming unsure of whether or not the Chisenhall would ever fulfill his promise. In fact, there was not a guarantee that Chisenhall would even break camp with this year’s big league club.
However, Chisenhall had a strong spring and made it impossible for the team not to bring him to Cleveland to start the season. The plan was and remains to platoon him at third base and designated hitter with Santana. Santana, being one of the team’s top power hitters, would see the bulk of playing time. Chisenhall, a left-handed hitter, typically only sees action against right-handed pitchers. To this point, that has resulted in 15 starts through the Tribe’s first 28 games for Chisenhall.
As much as Chisenhall proved his worth to the team as a major leaguer in spring training, he now may be proving his worth as a guy who deserves to see more playing time. Chisenhall, through the first month of the year, has seemed more comfortable than ever at the plate against big league pitching. While his power numbers are down, Chisenhall is making more contact with the baseball than he has in any of his previous tours with the Indians.
The young prospect is currently hitting .368, which would lead the team if he had enough at-bats to qualify in the category. He’s collected 17 hits in 47 at-bats. His three walks at this early stage of the season show a guy who seems more willing than before to take bad pitches and not swing freely. At this point, he only has one RBI and has not belted a home run. However, six doubles are an indicator that he is still driving the ball. If he continues to hit, the power should come naturally.
Compare this to Santana. Santana is off to an awfully slow start, hitting just .151 and having played in 27 games, so far. He has three home runs and nine RBI, so the power numbers are not too far off. However, Santana has been mired in slump for a more than a week that he seems hard-pressed to shake.
It may be time to rest Santana, let him collect his thoughts and get refocused. Perhaps, for a couple weeks, the Tribe should consider flip-flopping the roles of Chisenhall and Santana. Perhaps Santana could play a little first base and spell the also-struggling Nick Swisher. However it shakes out, Indians manager Terry Francona should try to get Chisenhall in the lineup more often.
Chisenhall is proving he deserves to get a long look as a guy with regular playing time. In a part-time role, he has hit better than ever. Chisenhall is showing he can hit major league righties.
In a perfect world, the former first-round selection would be an everyday player. When he was 22, that may have been a lot to ask. But now, we are now getting near the put-up-or-shut-up point.
With Santana struggling to get much of anything going at the plate and Chisenhall in the best groove of his major league career, now seems a good time to see if the he has gotten to point where he can at least be viable against lefties.
If Chisenhall continues to struggle against southpaws, at least Cleveland management would know they have no more than a platoon player on their hands. If he can continue to hit righties and establish decency against the left-handers, then Chisenhall will have proven to have turned the corner toward being a starting commodity in the majors.
It can not hurt for the Indians to play Chisenhall more. At 11-17 and the offense hitting less than .240 at the plate, some sort of shakeup could be in order. Sitting Santana and/or Swisher a few times per week for the immediate future could get them back on track as they work on what is bothering them at the dish.
Even if the Chisenhall’s hot start is a mirage or early-season hot streak that will not last, Cleveland owes it to itself to find out. This is still a young guy who was once the top position player in the farm system. The Indians need to find out, definitively if he will pan out or simply be a backup or platoon player.
Chisenhall proved during the spring training that he deserved at least one more chance with the major league club. Now he is proving to deserve regular playing time. Between Chisnhall’s hot start and other guys struggling, there is nothing to lose, for trying him out as a regular in the starting lineup.
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