Lonnie Chisenhall is ready for a breakout year.
Here’s a bold prediction: Lonnie Chisenhall is going to be a star for the Cleveland Indians in 2016.
That might not seem so bold, given his .288/.353/.404 line in the second half, but Chisenhall is far from a lock to put up solid numbers next season. His career is built on half-seasons of success followed by deep slumps. So why would 2015 be any different?
Chisenhall’s defense has been a well-documented struggle throughout his career. His move to the outfield seems to have given him a much more natural position to play. The “hot corner” proved to be just a bit too hot in terms of reaction time and footwork, but the outfield still gives him the opportunity to show of his athleticism via his arm and speed.
Chisenhall and Alex Gordon share a similar path. Both were highly touted third base prospects, who just couldn’t seem to master the bat well enough to make a long-term good impression at the major league level. But a move to the outfield seemed to spark something. For Gordon, it was a long-term change, and now he’s a perennial Gold Glove All-Star in left field.
The same could be true for Chisenhall. The Tribe’s former third baseman batted .280/.343/.427 in 2014, which was largely due to a hot start to the year. After finishing the season in a slump, Chisenhall carried his struggles over to the 2015 season – eventually being sent to the minors, where he got some reps in out in right field.
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After his return, it seemed like nothing could stop him. And his defense wasn’t exactly shabby either, for someone with only a handful of outfield starts compared to players who’ve been tracking down fly balls for their entire careers.
When Chisenhall first debuted, strikeouts were one of the biggest concerns. He couldn’t take a walk, and he swung and missed too often. Over the last five seasons, he’s developed a much better eye at the plate. His strikeout rate has decreased to below league average. Similarly, his walk rate was 7.3 percent last year, and 6.4 percent this season. With the league average at 7.9 percent, this is a marked improvement over the 3.6 percent he had in is rookie season.
Combining these small but consistent improvements with his move to the outfield, there’s reason to believe that Chisenhall is poised to have a big season in 2016. Trading him now would be a big mistake. Other teams are likely to be skeptical and unwilling to risk any worthwhile prospects until they see another year of consistency, so why not take the gamble of keeping him one more year? If he doesn’t succeed this year, it’s time for the Tribe to cut their losses and let him go.
But if Chisenhall’s career continues to progress on the same trajectory as Gordon’s, the Indians will be pleasantly surprised by what they see next year.