The leash on Lonnie Chisenhall is a little shorter these days.
Though the Cleveland Indians decision to shift outfielder Drew Stubbs to right field last week has more to do with their glut of outfielder than third base, the move will have significant repercussions to the Indians infield as well.
Chisenhall, the former top organizational prospect, will be given the chance to be the team’s every day third baseman going into this season. But, should he struggle, he won’t have to look too far to see utility Mike Aviles behind.
Now, with Swisher moving to first base, he can add Mark Reynolds there, too.
It’s undoubtedly a big test for the 24-year-old, who started the 2012 season in the minors, getting called up after mashing AAA to the tune of a .314/.341/.517 triple-slash.
Those numbers didn’t quite translate the way that the Indians thought that it would last season, as Chisenhall posted a .741 OPS – an improvement from his major league numbers in 2011, but numbers that will have to continue to climb in 2013 for him to stick around.
Going against him is that after just 109 games of experience, he’s going to go into his first full-time job with the expectation to meet the lofty expectations that made him one of the best prospects in all of baseball only a couple of years ago.
The Indians can’t afford to be hanging around waiting for their third base prospect to go through the ups and downs of a third stint in the bigs, not when the team retooled its offense to compete with the big boys in the AL Central.
Fortunately, Chisenhall has shown some of the skills that earned him good number since the minors. He has a good bat for contact (85.7 percent in 2012), and his line drive rate is healthy (25.2 percent), and his plate discipline will likely keep his batting average high enough to be playable.
Chisenhall’s biggest obstacle will be to show that he can hit lefties. Against RHP in 2012, the Indians third baseman of the future was exactly what they’d hoped for, posting a .298/.348/.500 triple-slash with five homers in 112 PA.
When faced with LHP, though, he was totally, utterly lost, as a .184/.205/.237 slash, combined with zero walks in 39 PA, would indicate.
He might never be a lefty masher, but in order for Chisenhall to take the next step in 2013, he’ll have to stay above water against southpaws, or he will quickly find himself in a platoon situation with Aviles, or losing playing time to Reynolds when Carlos Santana needs a day off from catching.
Chisenhall has seen first hand just how far a prospect’s stock can drop, and in 2013, he’ll have his work cut out for him to stick as the team’s regular third baseman, with a couple of veterans looming closely behind.
He’s still just 24, and failing now won’t be the end of the road by any means. That said, the inability to meet expectations is a slippery slope, and Chisenhall will be motivated to show that he’s ready now to avoid the same path that Matt LaPorta has traveled over the last few years.