A Healthy Chisenhall Can Settle Outfield Full of Questions
Craig Gifford | On 04, Feb 2018
Lonnie Chisenhall may not be a great player. He is also likely to never really live up to his 2008 first round draft selection billing. However, if he can stay healthy, he can help settle a muddied Cleveland Indians outfield.
At 29, Chisenhall only seems old because he made his Major League debut with the Tribe at the tender age of 22. He has been up and down throughout his career, with numerous peaks and valleys. The last two seasons, however, Chisenhall has reinvented himself as an above average outfielder and has become much more consistent at the plate.
In 2016, Chisenhall’s first full year playing in the outfield, the converted third baseman hit .286 with eight home runs and 57 RBI in 385 at bats. He played 126 games in a platoon role, playing mostly right field.
It was actually in late 2015, after a miserable first half to the season that included a stint in Triple-A Columbus, that the Indians inserted Chisenhall into the outfield. Leaving behind his third base duties, where he often struggled in the field, seemed to be a big boost to Chisenhall, both defensively and offensively. It was August, that year, when he finally started becoming a truly consisted player.
Last season, he was headed toward the best year of his career befor a pulled calf muscle wiped out much of the second half of the campaign for the Chiz Kid. In 82 games, he batted .288 with 12 bombs and 53 RBI. Over a full season, that would have been a pace for 20 homers and 100 driven in. He was having a borderline All-Star 2017 if not for the calf issue. He also missed time with a concussion.
The production Chisenhall is capable of providing would be huge benefit to an outfield with a lot of question marks and currently stands as the only glaring weakness for an Indians team that is the favorite to win a third straight American League Central Division championship.
Left field is set if Michael Brantley can rebound from an ankle injury that cost him most of the final two months of this past year. His return by Opening Day is not a guarantee. Center field is in the good defensive hands of 2017 rookie Bradley Zimmer. However, it remains to be seen if he can hit consistently at the Major League level. He still has a lot to prove. Last season was tough on the injury and effectiveness part for Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte. All of whom have had success in the big leagues, but also have had their share of struggles. None are guarantees to break camp with Cleveland in March. Melvin Upton Jr. is the latest minor league signing hopeful, looking to bounce back. Rookie Greg Allen, despite his surprise inclusion on the ALDS roster, probably needs more minor league seasoning.
Barring a trade, the Indians are going to have a lot of players to sift through in spring training, none of whom inspire a ton of confidence as strong, everyday players on a championship contender. That is where Chisenhall comes in. If the veteran can stay healthy and continue his upward growth of the past couple years, he can be a stabilizing force in the outfield, even if he mostly only plays against right-handed pitching. Since most pitchers are righties, he would still get the bulk of the playing time over whomever his platoon partner is. In a perfect world and given perfect health that would be Guyer, as was the case in 2016 when the two combined to be a pretty formidable right fielder during that year’s pennant run.
Chisenhall can play all three outfield spots, with right field being his best. Given that Brantley may return by the start of the 2018 season and should definitely be back during the first month, at the very least, having those two nearly every day would really help to settle an otherwise unproven and iffy outfield.
Health is key when it comes to the Tribe’s outfield. Everyone looks at Brantley as the most important player to make the outfield click. That is because he is a two-time All-Star and former MVP candidate. However, Chisenhall’s ability to stay healthy and keep going as he has the last two-plus years is almost as important. If Brantley is healthy, he can be counted on to hit and be a very good player. Chisenhall may be a little more questionable. Of all the unknowns in the outfield, however, Chisenhall is the most likely to have success and the most likely to really be able to help an offense that could use his potential to hit. The losses of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce have put some holes in Cleveland’s lineup – Chisenhall is not either of those two at the plate, but he can certainly help fill some of the void.
Chisenhall may not be the great player he was once hoped to be. However, when healthy, he can be a solid contributor to a team with title aspirations. That is all that is really needed of Chisenhall right now and he should be able to fill that role quite nicely.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images