One of the biggest question marks on the Cleveland Indians’ roster this spring is who will win the starting third base job. The battle is between Lonnie Chisenhall and Jack Hannahan, but the unknown factor isn’t so much about who is better as whether or not Chisenhall is ready for an everyday job: “Lonnie is competing with himself,” manager Manny Acta said last week.
There’s still time left before Acta has to make a decision and he’s planning to take his time with it, but the start of the season is rapidly approaching. So in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our panel: Who should be the Tribe’s Opening Day third baseman? Joining us this week is former Indians blogger Andrew Cooper. Here’s what we all had to say:
Andrew Cooper: I believe that Lonnie Chisenhall is the better player, but even if you think that Hannahan is still a little more reliable at this point in their careers, there’s no disputing the fact that Chisehnall’s upside is infinitely bigger than Jack Hannahan’s.
Let me put it this way: if the Indians are going to make a solid push for a trip to the post-season, it’s not going to be because of Hannahan – but it might end up having a lot to do with the season Chisenhall has (among others, of course).
There’s no question that the Indians’ biggest weakness is their offense. With the right approach and the time to develop some confidence, Chisenhall might be able to provide a pleasant (and much-needed) spark to the bottom-half of the lineup.
Okay, so maybe Hannahan has the better glove, but as a former shortshop, Chisenhall has the raw ability to make a smooth transition to the hot corner.
At this point, it’s Chisenhall’s job to lose. And it shouldn’t even matter what he ends up doing in spring training. The Indians and their fans need to see what their former first round pick can do with a full season. We already know what the 32-year old journeyman (Hannahan) can do – not much.
Lewie Pollis: I’m on the record as having expressed my preference for playing younger guys on multiple occasions. I stand by that. Assuming that two players are projected to play equally well, a fringe contending team like the Indians should go with the younger one who will feature more prominently in their future plans—both to give the prospect some seasoning and because we have more to gain in terms of our playoff chances from a youngster’s breakout than we have to lose from his growing pains.
Of course, the key phrase there is “projected to play equally well.”
Chisenhall’s struggles in his MLB debut last year weren’t just generally growing pains: his plate discipline completely fell apart upon impact (3.6 walk rate, 0.16 BB/K ratio), which resulted in a putrid .284 OBP. He needed to show an improved approach in order to win the starting job, and with just one walk and 10 strikeouts in his first nine spring training games it’s fair to say he hasn’t done that.
Spring training stats should be taken with a massive grain of salt, but even so it’s troubling that Chisenhall’s Achilles heel in 2011 is manifesting itself so strongly in his first hacks of 2012. And even if they were offensive equals, Hannahan might be the better choice—the value of his phenomenal glove is magnified behind Cleveland’s pitch-to-contact staff, and the rest of the Tribe’s infield defense leaves something to be desired.
Yes, the job is Chisenhall’s to lose, but at this point he’s probably lost it. Once he fixes whatever’s causing his plate discipline problem the starting gig should be his for years to come, but until then the Indians are probably better off letting Hannahan hold down the fort at the hot corner.
Brian Heise: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Lonnie Chisenhall should be the Opening Day starter at third base. Regardless of how he performs this spring, the Indians should commit to Chisenhall long term and just roll with the punches. Yes, there are going to be bumps in the road along the way, but that’s to be expected with most young players.
The fact of the matter is Chisenhall’s ceiling is much higher than Jack Hannahan’s. Not to take anything away from Hannahan, he’s a great defensive player, but he’s never going to he the impact type of player many feel Chisenhall will eventually become. The Indians are better off playing Chisenhall from day one and letting him get comfortable at the big league level rather than repeating last years strategy of waiting until midseason to call him up.
If the future is now and Chisenhall is a part of that future, then why wait? If it doesn’t work out then so be it. But, if it all comes together Chisenhall could provide the Indians with another high quality offensive weapon to help them compete in the heavily armed American League.
Katie Hendershot: Don’t get me wrong; I like Jack Hannahan. I also know that in the grand scheme of things, spring training numbers don’t mean much. Putting that aside, I do believe that Lonnie Chisenhall should be the Opening Day third baseman at this juncture.
Hannahan has had a career full of ups and downs, and last season he filled his role well with the Tribe, but there is no telling if he can live up to the standards that he set. Defensively, he was exceptional at third last season, but so far in spring training, he’s been slightly rusty around the edges.
By no means is Chisenhall perfect. He might not produce awe-inspiring numbers at the outset of the season. But let’s not forget that there’s a reason that we have such high expectations for him. He was once considered a top-notch prospect in the organization. Last season we got only a glimpse of the beginning of his career, and to put all of our judgment on that would be unfair. We have to give him a chance to prove that all of the hype wasn’t all for nothing.
I know that just because he was a top prospect, he’s not guaranteed a long, successful career because sometimes players don’t pan out the way experts expect them to, but with Chisenhall, the only way we can know for sure is to give him more exposure at the big league level. Whether or not he has a breakout season is yet to be seen. Right now though, I think Chisenhall has the potential to impact the lineup in ways that Hannahan can’t.
Steve Kinsella: In all likelihood the Indians will turn to Jack Hannahan to be their Opening Day third baseman. But I would prefer that the Indians take a long look at Jason Donald as an everyday player, removing him only for defensive purposes late in games, before settling on him as a strict utility player.
Hannahan was a non-roster invitee in 2011 and after an injury to Donald opened the door he walked right through and become the Indians Opening Day third baseman. In that first game last year he went 3-5 including a solo home run off Will Ohman and three runs scored. Although he hit lefties well in 2011 his track record does not suggest that this skill is repeatable.
The one skill Hannahan does possess is his glove, and that should be utilized late in games when the Indians have a lead.