August 30, 2014

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Indians commentary: It’s time for Lonnie Chisenhall to produce for Indians

It may not be put-up-or-shut-up time yet for Lonnie Chisenhall, but we’re getting pretty close to that point.

Chisenhall, the Indians’ first-round draft choice in 2008, is back to give it another major league try after failing the first time around as Cleveland’s starting third baseman to open the season.

Failing to take advantage of big league playing opportunities has been a pattern for Chisenhall. He was beaten out by career utility infielder Jack Hannahan in 2011, did little after returning from an injury last year and fumbled upon being handed the job this season.

Sorry, Tribe fans, but it reeks of Matt LaPorta.

Now, thanks to injuries to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and, more applicably, Nick Swisher — an ailment that has caused Mark Reynolds to move from third to first in place of Swisher — Chisenhall has yet another chance to prove his first-round worth.

But, wait, you say. Chisenhall tore the cover off the ball at Triple-A Columbus to earn his promotion back to the majors. Yes, Chisenhall did exactly what he was supposed to do in the minors — batting .390 and not sulking — but fact is, he’d still be suiting up for the Clippers if the Indians had a healthy Cabrera and Swisher.

Still, it’s another chance for “Lonnie Baseball,” who has done little to justify the fanfare that has accompanied his arrival over parts of three seasons.

Truth be told, all the Indians have seen from Chisenhall while he’s been at the big league level are non-sustainable moments of offensive potential.

People, including manager Terry Francona, rave about his bat speed. But throw his stats from this year into the mix — .198, three home runs and 11 RBIs in 28 games — and he’s a career .246 hitter with 15 homers and 39 RBIs in 137 games with the Indians.

You can point to a 10-game hot streak in 2012 — .367, a homer, six RBIs — before Chisenhall suffered a broken arm when he was hit by a pitch in Baltimore, but that’s pretty much all that’s available.

A closer look reveals that his minor league numbers are solid, but certainly not of the star-studded variety.

In 431 games in the minors, Chisenhall is hitting .282 with 61 homers and 309 RBIs. Again, solid, just nothing that really stands out, other than his RBI-to-games ratio. And keep in mind, those numbers haven’t been accumulated against Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and David Price.

Call me crazy, but I like my can’t-miss prospects to produce eye-popping numbers in the minors before I anoint them as starters on the big league level. Chisenhall has never done that throughout a full season.

It certainly doesn’t help Chisenhall’s cause that he’s offensive-minded with below-average defensive skills. The Indians can live with errors from the hot corner from time to time, but if Chisenhall doesn’t hit, he’s of no use.

Thus far, he hasn’t hit.

One thing Chisenhall does have in his favor is that he’s still young. At 24, few — certainly not the Indians — are closing the books on what could wind up being a bright career.

But young or not and high-profile prospect or not, if you don’t produce on the big league level, the opportunities begin to dry up.

Just ask LaPorta.

Tonight

  • WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
  • TIME: 7:05
  • WHERE: Progressive Field
  • PITCHERS: Kazmir (3-4, 5.89 ERA) vs. Deduno (3-1, 3.26)
  • TV/RADIO: STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM

i>Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.