Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who are battling for a chance to make the Opening Day roster.
By Mike Brandyberry
On paper, it appears Lonnie Chisenhall is competing with Jack Hannahan for the third base position. In reality, Chisenhall may be competing with a myriad of players, including Hannahan to earn one of the 25-man roster spots for Opening Day.
Hannahan avoided arbitration and signed a one-year deal with the Tribe this winter valued at $1.35 million. A guaranteed contract from the Tribe is almost a certainty that he is guaranteed a spot on the roster. The Tribe is not in the business of giving contracts to players, then releasing them to play elsewhere on the Indians’ dime. If Hannahan does not win the starting job, he will be a bench player. Given the Indians’ roster situation, if Chisenhall does not win the starting job, he will certainly be sent back to AAA-Columbus where he can play every day. If Chisenhall clearly out plays Hannahan this spring, he will win the third base job and be in the starting lineup on Opening Day, however, if the competition is close, expect the nod to be given to Hannahan.
The more important question may be though, hasn’t Chisenhall already won the job from Hannahan?
Chisenhall was called up the Indians on June 28, after a dismal three game series in San Francisco where the offense stammered and Shin-Soo Choo’s wrist was broken by a pitch. The Chiz Kid was activated, though a little green defensively, to help provide some offensive punch. He provided some early pop, before cooling off in the second half of July. He hit only .217 for the month, and with the Tribe in the heart of a divisional race with Detroit, Hannahan was given the nod because of his better defense.
However, in August Chisenhall improved, hitting .241 in 21 games and slowly taking back the starting position. When Hannahan was injured in early September, Chisenhall had the chance to play everyday and had his best month as a big leaguer, hitting .279 with four of his seven home runs on the season.
Meanwhile, Hannahan struggled to produce offensively. His offensive struggles were part of the reason Chisenhall received the call from Columbus originally. After a good April last season, the journeyman third baseman hit .184 in May, .180 in June and .207 in July. He had the best month of his big league career in August when he hit .420 in 50 plate appearances. Considering Hannahan is a career .231 hitter, August was just that, a career month. Hannahan is also perceived as a better bat against left handed hitters, but he has only hit .249 for his career against southpaws. Chisenhall hit .260 against lefties a year ago.
The question Indians brass will not answer is their continued dedication to a journeyman infielder, who can really only play one position. At 32 years of age on Opening Day, development or improvement is out of the question for Hannahan, while upside surrounds the 23-year old Chisenhall. Why an organization that prides itself on building a core of young players and developing them together insists upon having him compete with a player he already has surpassed—except for his glove—is strange turn in philosophy. A team that is desperate for offensive improvement may have an answer in front of them, but elects to give the advantage to the no-hit, all glove option.
While Chisenhall will have to win the job from Hannahan to make the roster, the developing outfield predicament could also find him competing for a roster spot with the likes of Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Spilborghs and others. With Grady Sizemore already out of the lineup for an extended period of time, the team may be reluctant to carry only four outfielders. Carrying a fifth outfielder could result in a 71-South shuttle to Columbus for Chisenhall.
Ironically, the thing the Indians promote the most—a youthful team—could be what sends him back to Columbus since he still has options remaining.
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