Chisenhall and Tribe Future Tied Together

Lonnie Chisenhall inadvertently threw a wrench in the Indians’ 2013 plans when he began the season hitting just .213 through 26 games.

After hitting a mind-boggling .390 with six homers and 26 RBI in 27 games with Columbus, a few things became obvious.

First and foremost, Chisenhall has absolutely nothing left to prove at Triple-A. In 123 career Triple-A games, Chisenhall is hitting north of .300 with 17 home runs and 88 RBI. However, the biggest key to Chisenhall sustaining MLB success is his patience at the plate, which always seems to disappear once he gets called up.

In the minors, Chisenhall has almost two strike outs per walk. In the majors, that number skyrockets to over five strike outs per walk. His on-base percentage has suffered most because of that. It drops from a .374 mark in Columbus all the way to a mere .286 in Cleveland.

The second thing about Chisenhall’s promotion is that defense at third base will improve. Since Chisenhall was sent down on May 13, Mark Reynolds has had to shoulder the load at third. Every defensive play is an adventure, as Reynolds’ fielding percentage is just .921 this season. While Chisenhall’s career percentage at third base isn’t a whole lot better (.934), it’s certainly an improvement over Reynolds, who averages an error every 13 chances.

The biggest thing about Chisenhall’s return is that he finds himself in a similar situation to the one Matt LaPorta found himself in a year ago. This could be Chisenhall’s last best chance to prove to the Indians that he can be a long-term answer at third base. It seemed like everyone – fans, analysts, teammates – was expecting this to be Chisenhall’s breakthrough season.

When he got off to the slow start, the Indians had to change up their plans. The aforementioned Reynolds began seeing regular time at third while Jason Giambi – initially expected to play only once, maybe twice per week – started playing three of four times. Needless to say, the 42-year-old Giambi’s production suffered from the playing time. On top of that, the Indians didn’t really have any other options to put at third base. On MLB.com’s list of the Indians’ top 20 prospects, the only third baseman on the list is Giovanny Urshela. Urshela is number 20 on the list and has yet to reach Columbus.

So from here, one of two things could happen. Chisenhall could figure it out and prove to be the third baseman of the present and the future, or he could continue to struggle and force the Indians’ hand.

Should he continue to struggle, there are a few options. One would be to shop him in the offseason in an effort to find a better option at third base. Not that a deal before the trade deadline won’t happen, but it would be much more likely after the season. Another option revolves around the prospects the Indians have. Going back to the aforementioned MLB.com top 20 prospect list, three of the top four prospects in the Indians’ organization are shortstops. Number one is Francisco Lindor, number two is Dorssys Paulino and number four is Ronny Rodriguez. Of those three, only Rodriguez has ever played a game at third while in the Indians’ system, and he only played one game there. The Indians could decide to try and convert one of their shortstops to a third baseman, but that would be uncharted territory for each of them.

It may sound extreme, but the Indians’ 2013 season really does hang on whatever Chisenhall does with his second tour this season. Should he thrive, the Indians are back in business. Should he continue to struggle, it’s back to the drawing board once again.

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