Monday, January 24, 2011

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 4

Yesterday we got the ball rolling on our latest series here at AL Central In Focus, a look into Jonathan Mayo's list of the Top 10 third base prospects for 2011. We've already profiled the Tigers Nick Castellanos (#10), the Twins Miguel Sano (#5), and the White Sox Brent Morel (#3).

The first two players were 18 and 17 years old respectively last year, and despite having raw talent in spades, are a long ways from the Majors. The third player on the list, Morel, has the makings of a solid everyday player who will provide high end, and maybe even elite level defense.

The last two players on this list however are cats of a rarer breed. They possess multiple refined skills without clear weaknesses and have demonstrated the ability to succeed in the high minors. They are both very projectable and highly talented and could challenge for all-star teams. With that in mind, lets delve into into a diamond in the Cleveland rough;

Lonnie Chisenhall

The Indians are going to enter the 2011 season with question marks all over the field. Indians fans know what they're going to get from right fielder Shin-Soo Choo who is an elite talent, and they've got a pretty good idea of what to expect from Asdrubal Cabrera at short and Carlos Santana at catcher. Beyond that however, the team and fans are left to hope for players to be able to bounce back from injury, or for young players to elevate their games.

One of the positions where the team is unsettled is at third. Presumptive opening day third baseman Jayson Nix is a converted second baseman who's bat will never come close to being adequate at the position and who's glove is suspect. The team will also likely give Jason Donald a look. Donald would be another converted middle infielder, and like Nix lacks the bat to stick at the position for any extended period of time.

Thankfully for the Indians and their fans, they have a third baseman chiseled from marble named Lonnie Chisenhall in their system. Just like last years phenom, Carlos Santana opened the year in AAA, so too will Chisenhall, and just like Santana, he will likely not be long for the level.

It hasn't also been so easy for the Indians top prospect however. He was drafted in the 11th round of the 2006 draft, but turned down the Pirates offer to attend the University of South Carloina. He would enter the season ranked as the nations best freshman - he would finish the season off the team and in trouble with the law when he and one of his teammates were caught stealing computer and TV equipment along with $3,100 cash from a locker of an assistant coach.

That certainly wasn't an ideal beginning. After being kicked off the Gamecocks, Chisenall transfered to a community college and not surprising raked his way through the 2008 colege baseball season. Given another chance at the draft, the Indians looked past his off-the-field issues and took the shortstop 29th overall, signing him for a 1.1m bonus tht presumably could've been much, much more if not for his poor decision to try and steal a couple thousand. 

With the tumult of his college experience behind him, Chisenhall has done nothing but fly. Though drafted as a shortstop, the Indians moved him to third base after his first summer of pro ball. Though his overall offensive production during that first season (.794 OPS) wasn't phenomenal, it was a very impressive showing for a 19 year old directly out of college in Low A ball.

The next spring he'd move up the Indians Kinston team and it's then that he began to demonstrate his impressive offensive game with a solid .838 OPS before finishing the year with a brief taste of AA ball. In 2010 he continued the drum beat at Akron posting a .801 OPS. While the OPS numbers don't jump off the screen at you, it's important to look at the circumstances and peripherals that create them. At first blush, his numbers look similar to those of #3 prospect Brent Morel, but while Morel was getting his second taste of AA ball open 2010 at age 23, Chisenhall is two years his junior. And while Morel needed unsustainably high BABIP marks to hit his solid OPS numbers, Chisenhall's marks have been very average.


What strikes me most about Chisenall isn't his average and it isn't his power. It's his refined approach at the plate. One of the thing young players struggle with more than anything else, is adjusting to professional pitchers. They have trouble laying off of chase pitches and as a result they tend to strike out a lot and walk very little. Chisenhall doesn't seem to have those issues. While his walk rates aren't phenomenal, they're solid, and getting better. And his strikeout rate has never been bad at all, which is what you'd expect to see from a kid playing about two years ahead of his leagues average.

While Chisenhall lacks the upside of a Carlos Santana, he is going to be a very good player. His bat should play above average at the Major League and his glove should too. That combination of good bat and good glove is something that's hard to find and should in short order make him one of the most respected third basemen in the American League. More importantly, it'll give the rebuilding Indians something theydesperately need. Dependability.

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