2014 Chisenhall Proving to be More of an Asset than Chisenhall of Old

He was the Cleveland Indians’ First Round draft pick in 2008. He boasts a career .305 batting average with the AAA Columbus Clippers and a .374 OBP in that same level. However, Lonnie Chisenhall’s advancements at the minor league level have yet to permanently transpose themselves to Major League success.

Chisenhall’s history with the Indians, as earlier documented here by Mike Brandyberry, has been clouded by missed opportunities and an inability to seize the options which he’s been given. This season has started off no differently – once Carlos Santana approached the Indians about playing third base after Yan Gomes was acknowledge to be the starting catcher, Chisenhall was relegated to be a back-up for Santana.

However, Chisenhall’s current (albeit undefined) role with the Tribe did not come from lack of trying. During Spring Training this season, Chisenhall hit .306 with a .386 OBP. He had 19 hits, one double, two triples and three home runs. He had 33 total bases through the spring and drove in nine runs, while walking seven times and striking out 14 times in 62 at-bats.

The regular season has shown little change in Chisenhall’s strong performance at the plate. He finished out 2013 with an impressive showing during the Wild Card game, giving fans an optimistic outlook for the 25 year-old’s future.  Heading into Wednesday, in 15 at-bats, Chisenhall is hitting .400. He is triple-slashing a line of .438/.600/1.038. He has five runs on six hits, with three doubles and one walk with only two strikeouts.

Chisenhall has appeared in five games throughout the season, providing a small sample size in which he can be evaluated. However, five games with such a strong showing can still leave a promising showing for things to come.

Chisenhall has been out of the Tribe line-up since April 8, much of which had to do with the fact that his wife had the couple’s second child on April 10, and Chisenhall was placed on the paternity list for three days. While he hasn’t been back in the line-up since returning to the team, it seems that missing of handful of games should – hopefully – do little damage to his output. He was back in the lineup for the first time since returning from paternity leave on April 16.

It can’t be easy for a player to deal with always being the back-up guy – it’s a classic male example of the phrase, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” Chisenhall has not always had consistent Major League playing time, which can account for numbers that seem to be mediocre at best. He excels in the minor leagues because of the more consistent time he spends at the plate and on the field. However, Chisenhall has seemed to embrace his current situation and decided to react by performing to the best of his abilities. The rate at which the Indians continue to use Chisenhall, despite starting Santana at third, speaks to a potential of more faith in the player this season.

Recent movements, activations, and reassignments have, however, demonstrated interesting approaches taken by the Indians’ organization. With Michael Bourn’s activation from the Disabled List and assignment to the Major League club, Nyjer Morgan was reassigned to AAA-Columbus. Jason Giambi is suspected to be activated off the DL later this week, which means that another player will need to be reassigned in order to add Giambi to the roster. The question is, could that player be Chisenhall?

Chisenhall has been inconsistent in his Major League performances, to be sure. He hit .225 in 94 games in 2013 after hitting .268 and .255 in 2012 and 2011, respectively. He has, as stated, performed well this season and proven that his Wild Card performance was not a fluke, but perhaps an indication of something more to come from the young infielder. Yes, Chisenhall does not have a defined role this season. Yes, he is again the back-up guy to Santana just as he was to Jack Hanahan and others throughout his career. That being said, players like Mike Aviles are invaluable to an organization – Aviles is the king of utility men, proving to be an asset not just in his regular positions in the infield, but demonstrating that he can even go as far as to play in the outfield if needed. While Chisenhall may not have that extreme of versatility, he is playing this season like a guy who truly wants to play a role with this team. Just as Santana wanted to play a role when demoted from being the regular catcher, Chisenhall is playing like he wants to play a part, regardless of location. The competition aspect seems to be forcing him to play to his top and best levels, a situation on which the organization should be capitalizing.

It’s important to have players on the field or on the bench who truly want to be there – who want to use their levels of play to prove why they want to be there.

It has been suggested that Elliot Johnson may be the player chosen to be sent down upon the activation of Giambi which, when comparing the two players thus far this season, seems to be the wiser choice. Johnson is hitting .091 in four games with four strikeouts. While Chisenhall doesn’t perform well against left-handed pitchers – he hasn’t hit against any so far this season, but batted .111 against lefties in 2013 – Johnson doesn’t seem to be hitting well against any pitcher. Granted, he hit .204 against right-handed pitchers in 2013, and .224 against lefties, but Chisenhall still seems to be the stronger hitter for the team.

Perhaps neither of these players will be sent down upon Giambi’s activation. However, Chisenhall seems to be proving that he may be coming into his own this season. Yes, the season hasn’t been going on for very long, but throughout Spring Training and the few games he’s played so far, Chisenhall is demonstrating the same mentality as Santana – he wants to be part of this club, regardless of where or how that may be.

Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

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