Then & Now: Lonnie Chisenhall

Then & Now is a weekly feature at Indians Baseball Insider during the offseason that takes a look at a player’s past and present while also offering a possible glimpse into the player’s future.

It wasn’t long ago that Lonnie Chisenhall was one of the true can’t-miss prospects in baseball.

Armed with solid power, projectable defensive skills and a swing straight out of the movies, Chisenhall was atop many Cleveland Indians’ fans’ top prospects list. They weren’t the only ones enamored with Chisenhall.

In 2010, Baseball America ranked the left-handed hitter as the 31st overall prospect in baseball. In 2011, that number improved to 25.

Though that was now two years ago. Fast forward to 2013 and Chisenhall is no longer the prospect he once was.

Rather, he’s no longer a prospect at all as he lost that status following the 2011 season in which he accumulated more than 130 at-bats. Though he also is far from a bona fide Major League regular either.

However, that does not mean Chisenhall is a bust. Chisenhall is still only 24-years-old, and it’s hard to draw any conclusions in regard to this past season as injuries forced Chisenhall to miss more than two months.

Chisenhall may no longer be the blue chip prospect that he was just two years ago, but a promising Major League career could still be in the cards for Morehead City, NC native. So, with that being said, let’s take a look back at Chisenhall’s road to the Show.

Then:

Chisenhall was drafted by the Indians 29th overall in the 2008 MLB Draft. To some, the move was surprising as Chisenhall had a little bit of baggage since he was he was kicked off the University of South Carolina baseball team in March 2007 after he was arrested and charged with burglary and grand larceny.

Yet, the Indians maintained that they did their homework, and by all accounts that seems true; Chisenhall has been a model player and teammate since joining the organization more than four years ago.

The 19-year-old third baseman originally made his debut in 2008 at Single-A Mahoning where he left an immediate mark. In 68 games, he posted a .290/.355/.438 line with five home runs and 45 RBI.

Things really picked up for Chisenhall during the next season where he spent time between High-A Kinston and Double-A Akron. In 123 games between the two affiliates, Chisenhall posted a .258/.325/.472 line with 31 doubles, 22 home runs and 92 RBI.

Chisenhall was now viewed within the industry as a potential premiere player at the hot corner, and his prospect status began to explode. It only grew further the following year when he posted .278/.351/.450 line with 17 home runs and 84 RBI in 117 games in repeat duty at Akron.

Fans were now officially clamoring for Chisenhall to join the Indians, and those cries only got louder following his strong 2011 Spring Training performance. In 12 games that spring, Chisenhall hit .500/.567/.885 with two doubles, a triple, two home runs and five RBI. The sample size was extremely small but considering the numbers, it was easy to understand fans’ enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, the Indians decided to go the opposite route and Chisenhall began the season at Triple-A Columbus. Through 66 games, Chisenhall hit .267/.353/.431 with seven home runs and 45 RBI before he was promoted to Cleveland on June 27.

Things were not immediately perfect. In 66 games, Chisenhall hit .255/.284/.415 with seven home runs, 22 RBI, 49 strikeouts and just eight walks. Though there were signs that he was starting to figure things out as he hit ,.279/.295/.465 in September with four home runs and 14 RBI. The main problem remained his inability to draw walks as he drew just two in that month yet struck out 17 times.

Even still, it seemed as if Chisenhall would have a chance to grab the starting third baseman job for 2012. Though that Spring Training would just offer more truth that things are never quite as they seem.

Now:

While Chisenhall clearly offered more upside than any other third baseman in Spring Training last season, the Indians decided to stick with the incumbent and allowed Jack Hannahan to start the season in that role. The Indians valued Hannahan’s leadership ability and wanted him to be a part of the team. However, it may have made more sense for Hannahan to serve as a utility man and have Chisenhall as the starting third baseman, but the team never explored that option.

Because of that, Chisenhall began the season at Columbus where he got off to a torrid start. In 30 games, he hit .314/.341/.517 with four home runs and 17 RBI. He joined the Indians on May 28, and he really started to leave a strong impression. Through June 29, Chisenhall was hitting .278/.297/.458, but he unfortunately fractured his right ulna in the contest and would not return to action until September 10.

The overall line for the season for Chisenhall was .268/.311/.430 with five home runs, 16 RBI, eight walks and 27 strikeouts in 43 games. The lack of plate discipline left a lot to be desired, and Chisenhall’s splits were also kind of hard on the eyes; .298 average against left-handers while he hit .184 against right-handers.

Still, it was evident that Chisenhall had made some progress from his rookie season. He may not have yet been the franchise-altering player that many had hoped for, but he provided signs. And for a player with just 374 career plate appearances, sometimes signs are all you can hope for.

Future:

For the first time in his career, Chisenhall has been able to enjoy a Spring Training with a starting role secured. There’s no telling how this factors into Chisenhall’s play at the plate, but his bat has been impressive this spring as he owns a .389 average with three home runs in 15 games.

Much has been made of the Indians’ additions of Mark ReynoldsNick Swisher and Michael Bourn, but fans seem to be overlooking another key addition — Chisenhall.

In reality, that’s exactly what Chisenhall is as he’s never really been able to settle in at third base in either of the past two seasons. Hannahan certainly had his value with his glove, but if everything works out, Chisenhall’s bat should be able to more than make up for Hannahan’s glove.

There are a number of breakout candidates on the Indians this year, and every fan seems to have their favorite. For a lot of fans, that favorite is Chisenhall, and if you look at all the facts, it’s not too hard to see why.

Previous Then & Now profiles:

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