Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall isn't a household name among most baseball fans. After a once-in-a-generation performance to cap off an early-season breakout campaign, that distinction could soon change for the former top prospect.
If you didn't remember Chisenhall's name from top-prospect lists in 2010 and 2011, you'll surely commit his 5-for-5, three-home-run night to memory. Cleveland's newfound hitting machine drove in nine runs in a rout of the Texas Rangers on Monday evening, continuing his 2014 onslaught of big-league pitching.
After hitting Triple-A arms to the tune of a .390 batting average in 2013, Cleveland has watched its former first-round pick become an American League All-Star candidate. Heading into play on June 9, Chisenhall's 1.4 fWAR was higher than Seattle's Robinson Cano (1.3), the Dodgers' Hanley Ramirez (1.3), San Francisco's Buster Posey (1.2) and the Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury (1.2).
With a highlight-reel performance in the books, expect Chisenhall's season value to rise and the gap to narrow between a seemingly unknown star and some of baseball's richest and most well-known commodities.
Although causal fans may have been unaware of Chisenhall's breakout, Indians manager Terry Francona recently spoke about how much he's meant to Cleveland's success, per Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
"He's been a big part of just about everything we've done this year," Francona said. "He's played first. He's played third. He's DH'd. He's hitting lefties. He's been in the middle, it seems like, of all our rallies. He's running the bases. He's been a big shot in the arm for us."
Suddenly, that shot in the arm has the 33-31 Indians on the heels of the division-leading Tigers. After a dismal April (10-17), it looked like all the success of 2013 was fleeting in Cleveland.
With expected contributors like Jason Kipnis (.360 SLG), Nick Swisher (.631 OPS), Carlos Santana (.169 AVG) and Danny Salazar (1-4, 5.53 ERA) all suffering through injury or performance issues, few would have been shocked to see the Indians languishing at the bottom of the division through May and June.
Thanks to Chisenhall—along with surprise AL All-Star candidates Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley—the Indians are afloat in a crowded postseason race. Cleveland is now only two games behind Detroit in the AL Central and within 1.5 games of Seattle for the second AL wild-card berth.
While Chisenhall's pedigree—high draft pick, Baseball America darling and .821 career minor-league OPS—shouldn't make this breakout a total surprise, this player showed very little promise across 203 big-league games over the last three seasons.
From 2011-2013, spanning 682 plate appearances—the equivalent of more than one full season—Chisenhall posted a .244/.284/.411 slash line in Cleveland. Over that span, that .694 OPS was worse than luminaries such as Willie Bloomquist, Justin Turner and Nyjer Morgan, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).
Prior to the 2011 season, Baseball America rated Chisenhall as the No. 25 prospect in all of baseball. At the time, it was easy to envision a high-end contributor rising through Cleveland's minor-league ranks to Progressive Field.
While other 2011 top prospects reached the majors and excelled, Chisenhall required more patience from Cleveland's front office. From Chris Sale to Freddie Freeman to Manny Machado to Mike Trout to Bryce Harper, the list was filled with immediate-impact players.
Reaping the rewards for their willingness to wait, the Indians now have a player once included in the conversation with baseball's best prospects making a name for himself once again.
Expecting Chisenhall's MVP-level production to continue is nonsensical, but the Indians may have unearthed a major contributor. In the process of watching a prospect mature, one of 2013's better teams has arrived as a contender once again.
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