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Lonnie Chisenhall Poised for Breakout Season

Finally freed from competition with stars like Jack Hannahan and Jose Lopez, 24-year-old Lonnie Chisenhall finally appears ready to take control of the third base job for the Cleveland Indians. While Mark Reynolds and Mike Aviles were added this winter to potentially steal occasional at-bats from the youngster, Chisenhall may finally get the opportunity to shine under Terry Francona.

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Chisenhall has the makings of a league-average third baseman for the upcoming season, and, while he could reach All-Star levels down the road, his ceiling will be around a .270/.330/.430 season, barring any miraculous gains in his ability to make consistent contact and take a few free passes. While those numbers are a far cry from the typical Miguel Cabrera season, they are a drastic improvement upon what you would get frmo Hannahan (.234/.316/.355 career line) and Lopez (.262/.292/.395, even as a former All-Star).

While Chisenhall has his limitations, the prospects of his reaching a .257/.335/.379 line in 2013 seems very reasonable. Why those numbers? Because that is what Jason Kipnis provided in his “breakout” 2012 season for the Tribe. Chisenhall is capable of attaining those numbers and I am not alone in that conviction. Just look to the projections on FanGraphs:

Steamer 455 15 49 55 3 0.257 0.311 0.426
Bill James 557 18 75 74 3 0.262 0.310 0.433
ZiPS 469 11 55 53 2 0.255 0.308 0.423

Those certainly aren’t All-Star-caliber numbers, but if Kipnis was a success while posting a .714 OPS, if Chisenhall posts a .737 OPS (the average of the three projections above), then what is he?

The lineup around Chisenhall is solid. The Indians have a great leadoff hitter in Michael Bourn, they have switch-hitting power in Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, and (if he returns to 2011 form) Asdrubal Cabrera, and they have empty power in strikeout guru Mark Reynolds. Chisenhall doesn’t have to be a superstar to be successful for the Indians, as they have enough veteran leadership around him to allow him to learn on the fly, and he will.

There are several reasons that Chisenhall has what it takes to be an asset for the Indians. First, he raised his average .064 points in 14 days before his forearm was so rudely broken by a Troy Patton pitch on June 29 of last season, going 11-for-31 with four extra-base hits and six RBI while posting a 2:1 K:BB over 33 plate appearances. Was he on his way to breaking out then? Maybe he’ll be able to pick up where he left off.

Also, he can hit at Progressive Field, having posted a career .298/.344/.494 slash in 181 plate appearances there. That’s a small sample size, but the Indians hit just .249/.322/.377 at home last season and it generally played as a strong pitcher’s park, so if Chisenhall is a spark, that would be a solid addition.

Moreover, Chisenhall has a career .313/.345/.470 line with men on base and the Indians have some very good on-base machines in Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher, who could be hitting in front of him. If he maintains that solid line, Chisenhall could easily exceed the projections from FanGraphs.

Chisenhall is not without his faults—see his 76:16 career K:BB in 374 plate appearances and his career 20.3 percent strikeout rate and 4.3 percent walk rate, not to mention his .921 fielding percentage, far worse than the .952 league average for third basemen in 2012; however, he deserves the opportunity to shine, thrive, and become an everday player, and with that opportunity, the Cleveland Indians and all of Major League Baseball will finally be able to see the player that Lonnie Chisenhall is capable of being.

Lonnie Chisenhall is quite capable of shocking the world in the 2013 season, and while his final numbers won’t be Ryan Braun-, Miguel Cabrera-, or Joey Votto-esque, it isn’t unreasonable to expect the young third baseman to become the 2013 version of Jason Kipnis to the Cleveland Indians, posting solid overall numbers (even if it is just for one half) while becoming a solid contributor for the Tribe.

Tags: Cleveland Indians Lonnie Chisenhall

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