Would Tribe fans be happy to see Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner at Progressive Field?
The Indians can’t afford Beltre, but they are hoping former top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall makes a similar impact as a homegrown player at third base. While many will look at The Chiz’s (shout-out to Paul of The DiaTribe for the nickname) numbers as a rookie and feel underwhelmed (a .284 OBP will usually make me call for a player’s head), his stats were pretty good considering that he was a 22-year old rookie (he was one of only eight players age 22 or younger to log more than 200 plate appearances) who was called up on June 27 and got hurt two weeks later.
The Indians have called up a few high-profile prospects since the great purge of 2009, including Carlos Santana and Alex White, but Chisenhall was the first homegrown position player (Santana was acquired as a minor leaguer for Casey Blake) who was expected to make a big impact for the parent club. Chisenhall came up to great fanfare, as third base had become a black hole (to put it politely) since Blake’s departure in late 2008. Mark DeRosa, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Marte, Luis Valbuena and Jayson Nix all took their turns at third for the Tribe from 2009 to 2010, and all of them failed to produce (at least for the Indians—Peralta made a resurgence for Detroit after the Tigers acquired him in July of 2010). Jack Hannahan did a decent job as a cheap fill-in for the first couple months of the 2011 season, but he faded badly (.495 OPS in the month of May), and by the end of June Chisenhall was a sight for the sore eyes of Tribe fans who had to watch the pathetic offense (or lack thereof) of the other third basemen. And besides Hannahan none of Chisenhall’s predecessors were particularly good with the glove at the hot corner, either.
So, fairly or not, there were some heavy expectations for The Chiz. And many Tribe fans seem as quick as I am to dismiss the underwhelming numbers for his rookie campaign as simply adjusting to the Major Leagues. That’s why I brought up Beltre in the beginning.
Most Tribe fans probably know about Beltre, who had a great season (28 HR, .369 OBP, 7.0 fWAR) for Boston in 2010, followed by another one for Texas (32 HR, .331 OBP, 5.7 fWAR) in 2011. Beltre was even younger than Chisenhall (Beltre was 19) when he entered the league in 1998. He hit 48 home runs in 2004 for the Dodgers, signed a huge contract with the Seattle Mariners, and was called a bust when his numbers weren’t similar. However, Beltre has reasserted himself as a big-time player in the past two years, and some analysts believe that he is quietly making a case for Cooperstown with his play, and it appears that his struggles in Seattle were caused by Safeco Field and unrealistic expectations.
Chisenhall and Beltre aren’t similar players, per se; Beltre is right handed and considered an excellent fielder, while Chisenhall is a lefty and is still learning the position (he is a converted shortstop). What are similar are the massive expectations that each player faced at a young age. What’s odd about The Chiz is that Indians fans can’t seem to agree on what exactly those expectations are. Some feel he will be an offensive monster, similar to the old Grady Sizemore (minus the injuries). Some feel he will be a steady producer, a bit like Travis Fryman was for the Tigers and later the Indians, and others feel he will be another high-profile bust, another Andy Marte for the Indians. Still more feel the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
And now, I know you’re just dying to know what I project The Chiz to do over his career: I think when Chisenhall reaches his prime, the Indians will be able to pencil in a third baseman in the No. 3, 5 or 6 holes in the lineup who will hit anywhere from 15-25 home runs a season (I realize that’s a big window, but Chisenhall is still young and a lot depends on his ability to adjust to big-league pitching), a .350-ish OBP and hopefully above-average defense at third. The defense remains to be seen, and that is ultimately what will determine if The Chiz remains a third baseman. I don’t think Lonnie will ever be an MVP candidate, but he should make a couple All-Star games as long as the third base competition remains weak.
The key here, Tribe fans, is managing your expectations. I know we’re all waiting for the next Jim Thome to come up through the farm system, but Lonnie Chisenhall is not Jim Thome, and probably never will be. This doesn’t make Chisenhall garbage, or not valuable by any means – it’s just that Dan Gilbert probably won’t be rushing to print up Fatheads with his likeness. Indians fans cannot, however, deem him a bust just because he will probably never be a savior; unrealistic expectations shouldn’t cloud our judgment. The Indians need to develop players that can fill holes—not just MVP candidates—in order to keep costs down. Developing homegrown players like Lonnie Chisenhall is a lot cheaper than paying top dollar for Adrian Beltres. Of course, if The Chiz puts up numbers like Beltre has in his career, Tribe fans will have reason to grin. Just don’t be unrealistic. After all, Lonnie’s only 23.