If the arc of history curves toward justice, the arc of a prospect must curve toward failure. Just as surely, there is an age at which that arc begins to bend more steeply. I suspect that very few players who are not established as big league regulars by their 25th birthday have careers that are noteworthy. So while it could seem that who plays third base for the Indians next year is just a matter of who has the higher OPS or range factor, there is a subtext that cannot be ignored.
Lonnie Chisenhall has a swing that makes me think of George Brett, one that consistently makes contact with a sound that is deeper and more solid than 90 percent of other major leaguers. He is also prone to swinging at bad pitches and hasn’t figured out left-handed pitching. The Indians are reportedly planning to hand him the starting job at third base in 2013, but if that isn’t true or the team changes its mind it will have consequences far beyond the Tribe’s 2013 record.
I believe that there comes a time when prospects need to be given an opportunity or else they cease to be prospects. A player needs, in my mind, 500 at-bats in the major leagues before any judgments can be made about what he is capable of. This means a year of uninterrupted play, not four or five stints of a 100 at-bats each. At a certain point in a player’s development, he should either be given those at-bats or traded for someone the team will use. Holding onto a prospect too long diminishes his perceived value; in the 1990s the Indians refused to trade young players such as Brian Giles but never gave them full-time jobs. Giles went from being mentioned in trade rumors for Randy Johnson to being traded for a situational reliever.
There is a sweet spot where, if prospects are not fully utilized, their progress seems to plateau and they never reach their potential. Possibly they become typecast as bad breaking-ball hitters, so they face only fastball pitchers and never fix their weak spots and are limited to 300 at-bats a year. Maybe they get frustrated at their limited opportunities and start pressing when they do get to play (like Matt LaPorta). Whatever the case, a prospect needs to be treated differently than the ordinary guy who gets jerked between Cleveland and Columbus because somebody pulls a muscle or there’s a day-night doubleheader.
At this point, Chisenhall is ready for The Show. More time in Columbus will not help him. The only way to learn how to lay off major league breaking pitches is to see a bunch of them. It may turn out that he is simply not a high on-base guy, but if that is the case it would be better to find out and move on than to keep hoping. In my mind, at bare minimum he should post a .750 OPS and play average defense, which, given the current state of the Indians, makes third base maybe the sixth-most urgent problem to address.
A team like the Indians needs to be nearly perfect in player development in order to compete with teams that can spend twice as much money on importing talent from other teams. This means guessing right in drafting and trades, teaching good fundamentals at all levels of the organization, and, perhaps most importantly, maximizing the potential of those prospects who show the ability to be core players. If Lonnie Chisenhall makes the Opening Day roster he could be on a bright path for the future. But if he starts the 2013 season in Columbus, he could go the way of Andy Marte.
Should Lonnie Chisenhall be Indians' 2013 starting third baseman?
- Yes (100%, 23 Votes)
- No, they should use someone else from within the organization (0%, 0 Votes)
- No, they should bring in someone else from outside the organization (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 23