CLEVELAND -- No matter how well he plays, Indians top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall is not likely to win Cleveland's available job at third base this spring. He will probably be sent to Triple-A Columbus for more development.
Just don't tell Chisenhall that.
"I'm going to try to play hard and make the decision hard for them," Chisenhall said last week while attending the Indians' winter development program in Cleveland. "I'll give it everything I've got."
If Tuesday's unveiling of MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects is any indication, Chisenhall certainly has a chance of impacting the Tribe's big league roster soon. One year after just missing the cut, Chisenhall was rated as baseball's 36th-best prospect, and he ranked second among third-base prospects.
It is clear that the Indians view Chisenhall as an important cog within their future core, too. Cleveland has a handful of players in the mix for its vacancy at third base, but none appear to be long-term solutions. The expectation is that, if everything goes according to plan, Chisenhall could be in an Indians uniform before the end of the season.
"He has all the ability and talent to impact the team," said Ross Atkins, the Indians' vice president of player development.
One year ago, MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list included catcher Carlos Santana (11th overall) and outfielder Michael Brantley (46th) from the Tribe's farm system. Both spent significant time with the Indians in 2010, and each player projects to be a part of Cleveland's Opening Day lineup for the upcoming season.
Chisenhall was rated 55th overall by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo last year, falling a few spots short of being included on the annual Top 50 Prospects list. There was no chance of that happening again this year, with Chisenhall the clear-cut favorite to wear the "top prospect" title in the Indians' improving system.
Chisenhall is among a group of Indians farmhands on the cusp of reaching the Major Leagues. Highly touted prospects Jason Kipnis (second base) and Alex White (right-handed starter) also project to impact Cleveland's squad at some point this season. For now, though, it appears all three will open the year with Triple-A Columbus,
"He had a great year," Atkins said, referring to Chisenhall. "I think most realistic, we're looking at him going into Triple-A, playing every day. He hasn't had Triple-A at-bats yet. We have the benefit of exposing players to a progression, and we'll use that progression to the extent that we can."
Chisenhall, 22, was exposed to Double-A Akron in 2009 after spending much of the year with Class A-Advanced Kinston. In 24 games at Akron, the third baseman hit just .183 with a .238 on-base percentage. In 2010, Chisenhall spent the entire year at Double-A and hit at a .278 clip with 17 home runs, 84 RBIs and a .351 on-base percentage over 117 games.
Chisenhall, who was selected 29th overall in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, admits to being more relaxed in his second stint with Akron.
"I played a little bit there the year before," Chisenhall said. "I was comfortable last year in Akron. Being comfortable is definitely a big part of being able to mature and be ready for the next level. If they feel I need to be in Columbus next season, I'm going to work hard, and I'm going to be ready for whenever they call me."
Beyond monitoring Chisenhall's adjustment to a more advanced Minor League level, the Indians also want to see how he bounces back from a right shoulder issue that bothered him in 2010. Chisenhall missed some time last season due to an impingement in his throwing shoulder, and he used the winter to focus on strengthening the arm.
Atkins said the injury had a negative affect on Chisenhall's performance last season. The young third baseman cited more issues while throwing than when swinging a bat. Either way, Chisenhall's adjustment to Triple-A and recovery from the injury will both play a role in when he is summoned to the Majors.
"It's a matter of him overcoming some limitations," Atkins said, "and showing that he's past the injury."
Atkins noted that Chisenhall -- a shortstop prior to joining the Indians -- is strong defensively at the hot corner. The third baseman made 17 errors in 2010 and was charged with 22 one year earlier, but Atkins said most of the miscues are the result of Chisenhall taking risks in the field.
"He has great hands and good feet," Atkins said. "He does slow the game down. He understands positioning. He asks good questions about it. He's always prepared and has a lot of confidence in his ability. I think the errors that you see with Lonnie ... there's not a lot of consistency to them that would bring reason for concern.
"They are errors where he's learning a new position -- he was a shortstop as an amateur -- and he's pushing the envelope. He's trying to learn what his limits will be."
Chisenhall has enjoyed learning the position.
"The move to third base, it's a challenging position," he said. "Anybody who's competitive loves a challenge. I'm doing my best. I want to be the best third baseman. That's what I'm working on."
And Chisenhall hopes to man the position in Cleveland soon.