Prospect of the Day: Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians
Seeking to boost their hitting attack, the Cleveland Indians have promoted third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall from Triple-A Columbus. Is he the long-term solution at the hot corner?
Chisenhall was drafted by the Indians in the first round in 2008, 29th overall, from Pitt Community College in North Carolina. As a freshman with South Carolina in 2007, he was charged with stealing computers and cash and was kicked out of the program, landing at the junior college level, where he dominated. He served six months probation in 2008, and the Indians were comfortable enough with his makeup to pull the trigger with the first round pick.
Chisenhall has always excited scouts with his quick, short swing, plus bat speed, and power to all fields. His plate discipline isn't spectacular, but it isn't bad, and he keeps his strikeouts under control. He's particularly strong against right-handed pitching, and scouts detect few flaws in his approach, saying that he handles fastballs, breaking pitches, and changeups well. Most scouts believe he'll hit for both average and power as he matures. On defense, he features a solid third base arm and enough range for the position. He won't win gold gloves, but he won't be a liability, and his reliability has steadily improved with experience.
As good as the scouting reports are, there are concerns. Chisenhall's statistical performance has been decent but not outstanding. He hit .290/.355/.438 in the New York-Penn League in 2008, then .258/.325/.472 with 22 homers combined between High-A and Double-A in '09. Last year resulted a .278/.351/.450 mark in Double-A, which comes out to an OPS of +10 percent compared to '10 Eastern League average. That's above average, yes, but not that good for a corner player. This year he's hitting .265/.352/.427 for Triple-A Columbus, which comes out to a +7 percent OPS. His MLE this year is approximately .245/.320/.370. Last year it was approximately .235/.290/.360. Statistically at least, this is not the stuff of which batting stars are made.
That said, Chisenhall is just 22 years old, and the fact that the currently-mediocre numbers don't agree with the strong scouting reports doesn't doom him. Without the legal problems, he would have been a high pick in the 2009 draft, and in that kind of alternate universe, reaching the majors within two years of being drafted would be quite impressive. He has plenty of development time ahead of him, and the fact that he keeps his strikeout rate under control is a positive.
Nevertheless, the dichotomy between the stats and the scouts indicates that our short-term expectations should be cautious. In the long run, I think Chisenhall's swing and approach will make him a solid major league regular, hitting in the majors about what he hits in the minors, say .270/.340/.450 with a decent glove at third. That won't make him a superstar, but it will keep him employed for a long time.