Chisenhall could be Indians' future at third
Former first-round pick opening eyes at Cleveland camp
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Lonnie Chisenhall doesn't Google himself.If he did, the Tribe's highly touted third-base prospect might discover that Major League scouts are saying some pretty nice things about him, based off the way he's carrying himself in the Cactus League. "He's going to be a star," one scout told SI.com last week. And an Indians team without a clearly defined picture for the long-term future at third base certainly hopes the scout is right. Chisenhall, though, hadn't heard that comment. "A few of my friends like to send me stuff," he said. "Some people aren't as excited about me as others. If I hear negative stuff, I just use it as fuel for the fire. And I try to stay completely away from positive stuff. That gets to your head." So Chisenhall better not listen to what Indians general manager Mark Shapiro had to say about him. When talking about the first two weeks of the Cactus League schedule and performances that have stood out, Shapiro was quick to mention the former No. 1 Draft pick. "To see a kid like Lonnie Chisenhall," Shapiro said, "go out there and look like a big leaguer and, at times, look like the best big leaguer on the field, that's fun." One would assume Chisenhall, who was taken with the 29th overall selection in the 2008 Draft, is having fun in his first Major League camp. But his demeanor does not confirm that. This is a 21-year-old kid constantly on an even keel, carrying himself with a professionalism that belies his age. "I just try to keep my mouth closed and go about my business," he said. "I hope I don't come off as a bad guy. I just try to do my job, and that's about it." Chisenhall has done his job this spring, in that he's caught the attention of the Major League coaching staff. He's been afforded ample opportunity to showcase his skills, appearing in seven of the Tribe's first 12 exhibition games and starting three times in the past week.
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Not bad for a guy slated to begin the season in Double-A."It's huge for me," he said. "I'm getting into a couple games and getting a few at-bats. I feel comfortable, and I'm getting opportunities to prove myself." In 12 spring at-bats, Chisenhall has hit .250 with a pair of doubles and a triple. But in an environment where approach and mechanics count more than results, Chisenhall has made his presence known. "He is so quiet at the plate and so quick with his hands," manager Manny Acta said. "He's very advanced for his age. It's delightful to see him out there competing with these big league pitchers and holding his own at the plate." A year ago, Wes Hodges was touted as the Tribe's future at third base, before an injury-plagued '09 robbed him of needed development time at the position at the Triple-A level. Now, Chisenhall appears to have leapfrogged Hodges, in the Indians' thinking. Hodges is making the move to first base, which should leave the hot corner wide open for Chisenhall to take over at Columbus in the not-too-distant future. Chisenhall's progression will certainly be worth noting when one takes Jhonny Peralta's contract into consideration. Peralta is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, with the Indians holding a $7 million option on him for 2011. Whether or not they exercise that option, the long-term outlook for third base is tenuous, and that's where Chisenhall could certainly figure in. "Obviously, I hope it happens one day," Chisenhall said. "The sooner the better, obviously. But I'm in no rush. I know I have things I need to work on." He'll work on them in Akron, initially, though his progression to Columbus could be a rapid one this season. Chisenhall had a solid offensive season at the Class A and Double-A levels last year, batting a combined .258 with 31 doubles, 22 homers and 92 RBIs in 123 games. In the field, he made a successful transition from shortstop, where he played in his collegiate career, to third base. But Chisenhall knows plate discipline is an area he needs to work on. He struck out 80 times while drawing 37 walks last season. "I struck out a lot," he said. "I want to cut down on my strikeouts and have a few more walks. That will help my average. I try to square up every ball I see and have quality at-bats every time." There were some questions about Chisenhall at the time the Indians drafted him, because he and a former teammate at the University of South Carolina had been expelled for stealing school property. That prompted Chisenhall's move to Pitt Junior College in Greenville, N.C. Given the premium the Indians place on character, Chisenhall's past stuck out. But the Indians view it as a one-time incident and have had zero complaints about his character ever since. Instead, the Indians' higher-ups rave about the way Chisenhall shows a sense of belonging in this big league environment. "This kid is walking around the clubhouse like he's been there before, without being cocky or anything," Acta said. "He's not intimidated by anything. He's just a ballplayer, and he's going to be a nice player for this franchise." More kind words that Chisenhall will ignore.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.