Chisenhall Must Find a Way to Improve Defense Throughout Season

There was hardly a player more talked about during last year’s Spring Training than Lonnie Chisenhall. Would he get the third base job, what would happen between he and Carlos Santana, would Chisenhall end up in the minors, did he have what it took to be a contributing member of the team on more than just the bench, what was going to happen?

Chisenhall managed to fight his way onto the Indians’ roster last year and had, overall, a positive 2014 season, most notably at the plate. Who can forget his game June 9 against the Rangers last season, where Chisenhall knocked went 5-for-5 with three home runs and nine RBI, a performance which resulted in his bat getting sent to Cooperstown?

He posted an overall .280 average last season, with 62 hits, 13 homers, and 59 RBI in 142 games. It was a big jump over his 2013 performance, when he hit .225 in 94 games, though he did boast 11 home runs.

However, despite the power he showed at the plate, Chisenhall did lack defensive prowess at third, which is the one factor that keeps eyes on him heading into 2015. He beat Santana out for the job of third baseman last season, and the position is now essentially his to lose, as there are few other options to start at third for the Tribe.

Chisenhall made 18 errors at third last season, giving him a .931 fielding percentage. The Indians’ defense last season left much to be desired, so Chisenhall is not alone in his struggles, though he has not shown vast improvement that one would predict would come with time and experience at a particular position.

He has made three errors thus far in Spring Training and, although Spring Training games don’t hold an immense amount of weight for Chisenhall this year, they still reflect enough of his abilities to give fans a moment of pause. On March 6, Manager Terry Francona told Paul Hoynes of that Chisenhall still had some work to do to improve his skills on the field:

“It’s a couple of things, one is mindset and (two) is to stay in attack mode,” said Francona. “By that I mean wanting the ball hit to you and being aggressive with his first step. Thursday that ball was hit pretty firm, but his first step was a drop step and you could see right away that he was going to get the in-between hop.

“That infield was rough anyway, but that was a tougher play because that first quick drop step got him in a difficult position.”

Even with Francona’s guidance, Chisenhall’s performance has still run average this spring, and a breakout performance is not likely to happen. Chisenhall is 26 and, while there is no age limit on when a star can be born, Chisenhall’s past performances do not seem to hint at that star potential hiding just below the surface.

Chisenhall’s season has the potential to be marginally better than last year, and his performance at the plate will need to be what makes up for any defensive inconsistencies in the field. He’s an easy player to like.

The future of Lonnie Baseball’s career, though, could easily become the result of whomever else the Indians try at third throughout the season. With Francisco Lindor at the cusp of his Major League debut, an infield shift will need to occur. The Indians could move Jose Ramirez to third to make room for the young shortstop, though that option is unlikely. Ramirez could move to second, leaving Jason Kipnis without a job and potentially landing him in the corner to replace Chisenhall, relegating Chisenhall to the bench. Neither option, though, is ideal or probable to result in a better third baseman.

The Indians will have decisions to make around their infield once Lindor does find his way to the big leagues, at which point Chisenhall could find himself in a sink-or-swim situation. Time is the only thing that will make any decision one way or the other, and Chisenhall will likely spend his season attempting to prove that, when the time comes, he is where the Indians need him to be.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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