Chisenhall, Kipnis to continue work in Minors
Indians prospects to polish defense before big league callups
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The time will come when Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis are fitted for their Indians uniforms. That time is not now. Cleveland has made it clear to the young prospects that there is more development in their immediate future.
Their competitive nature might have led Chisenhall and Kipnis to push too hard this spring, trying to force the Indians' hand before the timing was right. Manager Manny Acta and general manager Chris Antonetti make sure to meet with every player individually -- prospects and veterans alike -- to avoid such situations.
"We try to be as honest as we can," Acta said. "I think communication and trust is the most important thing. It would be unfair if I sit those guys in front of me and tell them, 'You are competing for this spot' and 'You've got a chance to do it,' and once the games start, the innings are not there."
Chisenhall and Kipnis are a pair of polished prospects. After their respective meetings, they took the news in stride and headed back to the Tribe's big league clubhouse at the club's complex in Arizona. They both know that, soon enough, they will have lockers waiting in the clubhouse in Cleveland, too.
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The two positions surrounded by the most uncertainty right now are second and third base. Kipnis mans the former and Chisenhall the latter. The hope is that both players can develop into impact players for the Indians, providing some long-term stability at the hot corner and up the middle.
Until that time comes, all they can do is exercise some patience.
"When my time comes, it'll be my time," Kipnis said. "But I honestly have no idea when that is. All I can control is how hard I play and the confidence I have when I go into a game. When they decide to bring me up, if I've earned it, then that's when it comes."
Maintaining that mind-set, however, is not always as easy as it sounds.
"I'm patient to a point," Chisenhall said. "I think everybody is. You get an itch. You get close to the Major Leagues and you feel like you should be there, but sometimes you don't see the small things that other people see."
For both Chisenhall and Kipnis, some small things left to accomplish are on the defensive side of their game.
Chisenhall -- originally a shortstop -- is more than comfortable now as a third baseman, but he knows he needs to continue to refine his skills with the glove. The 22-year-old third baseman noted that he is focusing on getting better at reading balls off the bat, trying to train himself to react more swiftly.
"What I'm working on right now is my setup," Chisenhall said, "coming off the pitch, keeping my head still and seeing the ball as best as I can and then making a good break on it. Nothing too specific. It's just getting to the ball [faster] and making the play."
Kipnis started his career as an Indians farmhand as an outfielder. Last season, the 23-year-old converted to second base -- not always an easy transition. The hardest part has been learning positioning and getting comfortable with the footwork around the base, especially during double plays.
Both players can hit. There is no denying that.
Last season with Double-A Akron, Chisenhall hit .278 with 17 homers, 22 doubles and 84 RBIs over 117 games, and he posted those solid numbers after battling through a right shoulder injury early in the year. Kipnis hit .307 with 16 homers, 32 doubles and 74 RBIs over 133 games between stops with Class A Kinston and Akron.
The easy thing for the Indians to do would be to get caught up in the players' offensive success and rush them to the big leagues. Acta said Cleveland is taking extra care not to do that, making sure the club holds off on bringing them to the big leagues until the players are absolutely ready.
"It'd be great if a guy like Jason Kipnis could come that quick," Acta said. "But we do have to be mindful. He's only played one year at second base and he started at [Class A] last year. We do need to be careful and not make those knee-jerk reactions over stats in the Minor Leagues and really trust our Minor League peoples' evaluations."
Chisenhall and Kipnis are both likely to begin this season at Triple-A Columbus. With the exception of Kipnis' brief stay with Columbus for their playoff run last season, neither player has any experience at that level. If everything goes well with that next step, the Majors might not be too far away.
They might even see the bigs later this summer.
At second, the Indians have 36-year-old Orlando Cabrera in the fold on a one-year deal. At third, Jason Donald is the favorite to win the Opening Day job. Players such as Jayson Nix (second and third), Luis Valbuena (second and third), Jared Goedert (third) and Cord Phelps (second and third) will see time at those spots this spring, too.
Chisenhall and Kipnis are believed to have the highest ceilings among the internal prospects at their positions, and they have had their names pop up on multiple top prospect lists. Even so, both players know they can't let themselves get caught up in worrying about a big league promotion.
"You can't let your thoughts drift," Chisenhall said. "But waiting for the phone call is going to be exciting."
After their respective meetings with Acta and Antonetti, Chisenhall and Kipnis can now proceed with Spring Training without wondering where they stand. Any thoughts of pushing for a big league job right now have been moved to the side for the time being.
That has allowed them both to just soak up the spring experience.
"At some point in the future," Chisenhall said, "I will be ready to help the team. But I need to go down there and refine my game basically so I can be a consistent Major League player.
"It helps knowing that you're a part of their plans and that they look forward to you being there, but also them being honest with you."