How nice would Allen Craig look in the Cleveland Indians order right now? A team with all kinds of offensive talent adding another solid contributor to the middle of the order sounds like music to the ears to Tribe fans, right? Well, it isn’t going to happen anytime soon, as the St. Louis Cardinals have the slugger locked up through 2017 and carry a team option for 2018.
What does this have to do with Lonnie Chisenhall?
Lonnie Chisenhall just turned 24 this past October and he has 1,791 plate appearances in the minor leagues, having spent six seasons in the Indians system. While he has spent parts of the last three seasons in Cleveland, he has accumulated just 473 plate appearances with the big league club.
Allen Craig didn’t get his career started in the majors until 2010. He will turn 29 this July and he has succeeded at the major league level. He has succeeded after 2,209 plate appearances over seven minor league seasons in the St. Louis organization. As a college draftee out of Cal-Berkeley in the 8th round of the 2006 MLB Draft, he got a much later start than Chisenhall, while having much better overall numbers. Chisenhall could get another 500 at-bats in the minors and still be the same age that Craig was when he came up in 2010 next year. Chisenhall only has 429 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, where Craig had 927.
But this isn’t a comparison of Chisenhall and Craig for their current, actual value. This is just to make note of the fact that Lonnie Chisenhall is just 24 years old! Allen Craig took time to develop and not everyone can come up at 19 and 20 like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout and immediately produce at All-Star levels.
Chisenhall has bounced between the minors and majors since 2011. The hit-by-pitch that fractured his forearm in 2012 was devastating for his ability to establish himself as the Indians’ primary third baseman. In fact, the ten games that he appeared in from June 15 to June 29 (the day he was injured), Chisenhall was 11-30 (.367) with two doubles, one triple, one home run, and six RBI, increasing his season line from .214/.214/.357 on June 15 to .278/.297/.458 on June 29.
Clearly, Chisenhall has some work to do. His plate discipline is a disaster and he doesn’t really fit in a lineup full of guys with solid on-base skills, but he doesn’t have to walk like Joey Votto to be productive. Chisenhall just needs to have more consistent, professional at-bats. He has seen about 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, which is not drastic considering that Jason Kipnis averages 4.2, Mark Reynolds averages 4.3, Carlos Santana averages 4.4, Nick Swisher averages 4.0, and Asdrubal Cabrera averages 3.9 pitches per plate appearance. It all adds up over a season to show who is having solid at-bats, as Jason Kipnis would see nearly 200 more pitches over 500 at-bats than Chisenhall in their 0.4 pitch per at-bat difference.
At just 24 years of age, it isn’t time to give up on Chisenhall. With such names as Kris Bryant out of San Diego and Colin Moran out of North Carolina being thrown around when the Indians pick fifth in the upcoming June draft, the Indians could be looking for a future cornerstone third baseman with the selection of either; however, Chisenhall has time, he has the skills, and he should still have the organization’s trust and patience. Columbus could lead to some pretty inflated numbers (he had an .858 OPS there in 30 games in 2012), which could give him the confidence that he needs to take over third base in a couple of weeks, allowing the club to have the flexibility to move Mark Reynolds, Carlos Santana, and Jason Giambi between the first base and designated hitter spot.