When the Indians promised Lonnie Chisenhall that third base belonged to him this season, they didn’t expect him to have a .213 average or a .253 on-base percentage by the middle of May. As his struggles at the plate began to negatively impact his defensive work on the field, the team had no choice but to ship him down to Triple-A and let him regroup.
In just fifteen games with the Columbus Clippers, the 24-year-old seems to have gained back both his confidence and his ability to hit. Through 72 plate appearances, he’s hitting .371/.444/.694, with five home runs, a triple and a stolen base. He leads the International League in batting average and OPS, and – perhaps even more impressively – he has walked six times.
Although he has only been with the Clippers for three weeks, Chisenhall has already walked twice as many times as he did in his six-week stint with the major league club. While playing for the Tribe this season, he posted a K/BB rate of 7.33, compared to a league average of 2.4. In 30 games with Columbus last year, he only earned four free passes.
Whether he’s seeing the ball better or simply being more patient, it’s a big improvement for the free-swinging third baseman. One of the major issues for Chisenhall in the past has been his lack of plate discipline. He has one of the highest swing rates in the major leagues and tends to chase pitches outside of the strike zone, leading to an above-average strikeout rate of 22.2 percent and an unacceptably bad three percent walk rate.
If Chisenhall is having success at the plate again, including his newfound patience, is it time for the Indians to call him up?
It seems like now is the perfect opportunity. The Tribe’s bullpen has had to do fairly minimal work this season, thanks to the success of the team’s rotation. With the majority of the starting pitchers being able to work into at least the sixth or seventh inning of every game, the relievers have had trouble finding enough work to keep all of them sharp. After two seasons of having one of the most reliable bullpens in the major leagues, the Indians have begun to have serious issues with their relief arms.
One of the most prevalent examples of this is Vinnie Pestano’s recent elbow injury, which was partially blamed on underuse. His subsequent struggles have cost the team, and he isn’t the only pitcher that has faltered this season.
One logical solution would be to send down the eighth man in the bullpen, whether that would be Matt Langwell or Nick Hagadone, and call up Chisenhall. The relievers would all be able to log a few additional innings, and extra help would only be a short drive away should the bullpen ever start to get overworked. Meanwhile, Chisenhall would be able to resume his role with the big league club.
Mark Reynolds, who has been the primary third baseman during the last three weeks, has been an absolute steal for the Tribe. He’s added right-handed power to the lineup and leads the team in home runs and RBIs. However, he’s not necessarily a piece of the puzzle when the team looks toward the future. There’s little chance that the Indians will sign him to a long-term deal, and he only has a one-year contract.
Chisenhall is supposed to be the third baseman of the future for the team. He’s hitting extremely well in Columbus and really has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. Although it’s a fairly small sample size, he’s been consistent in his success against Triple-A pitching. The best move for the Indians is to promote him again and see if he is able to continue to post those numbers at a higher level.
This is the best time to find out what Chisenhall is capable of. If the team calls him up now and he struggles at the plate again, they will have the remainder of the season to use Reynolds while they try to find a new solution for third base. The value of both players lies in their offensive contributions rather than their fielding abilities, so it’s not a loss defensively if Reynolds is forced into more playing time. If Chisenhall can’t hit at the major league level, they need to find out now. It also gives them a good opportunity to let him sit against left-handers, if necessary, since he was hitting a meager .091 against them before being sent down.
Chisenhall’s success in Columbus is hard to ignore, and it’s time to see if he can continue it as a part of the Tribe’s lineup.