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Could Lonnie Chisenhall become the next Jim Thome?

Could Lonnie Chisenhall become the next Jim Thome?
March 26, 2013
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I know what you’re thinking.

No, I haven’t soaked up too much Arizona sun this spring to make any bold predictions for the upcoming season. And no, I haven’t seen a mirage of what the season could transpire into at Goodyear Ballpark. I am just being like any baseball fan would be at this time of year: Optimistic.

As the Tribe wraps up the final week of Spring Training, there could not be any more excitement that surrounds newcomers Nick SwisherMichael Bourn and Mark Reynolds and the damage they could cause in the Indians lineup in 2013.

The potential impact and success of these new Indians hitters are endless, but what about some of the younger core players that remain from last season?

Almost winning an All-Star bid last year, second baseman Jason Kipniswill enter his second full season with the Tribe. Catcher Carlos Santana and left fielder Michael Brantley also hope to improve their overall numbers from one year ago, as both enter their third full year in Cleveland.

Then there is third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall.

For the 24 year old Chisenhall, 2013 will be his first full season in the majors—a season that could potentially be a breakout year for the left-handed hitting slugger.

Drafted 29th overall by the Tribe in 2008, Indians fans have heard the high raves of the team’s future third baseman for the past several years now. Baseball America not only ranked him the Indians top prospect in 2011, but also the 25th best prospect in all of Major League Baseball as well.

In two short stints with the Tribe over the past two seasons, Chisenhall has hit .260 with 12 homers and 38 RBI in 109 games. Respectable numbers especially for a player that has yet to surpass 400 big league at-bats. Despite consistent major league success, his stat line still does not project he will turn out to be a star in the Tribe lineup.

Or does it?

Chisenhall’s major league numbers at this stage of his career compare surprisingly similar to that of another former Tribe third baseman. A former third baseman that will soon forever wear the Indians Chief Wahoo in Cooperstown: Jim Thome.

Both Thome and Chisenhall started their careers playing at baseball’s hot corner, and both also bat left and throw right. As much of a coincidence as that may be, what is really interesting is the way both players match up almost exactly in several categories.

Below are Thome’s career stats heading into the 1994 season when he was 23 years old compared with Chisenhall’s career numbers heading into this year.

Jim Thome: (Entering the 1994 season at 23 years old)
114 G  369 ABs  .243 AVG  43 R  90 H  18 2Bs  10 HRs  43 RBI  44 BB  86 SO  .330 OBP  .390 SLG

Lonnie Chisenhall: (Entering the 2013 season at 24 years old)
109 G 354 ABs .260 AVG 43 R 92 H 19 2Bs 12 HRs 38 RBI 16 BB 76 SO .295 OBP .421 SLG

As you can see both Chisenhall and Thome have almost identical numbers in big offensive categories that include runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBI. The only knock on Chisenhall is his inability to draw more walks which in turn has hurt his career on-base percentage.

Now I am in no way saying Chisenhall is destined to become a Hall of Famer like Thome. What I am saying is just by this comparison alone it gives reason to believe that the player some call “The Chiz Kid” will soon turn the heads of many at Progressive Field.

As far as statistics and potential numbers are concerned, Thome posted an average of .268 with 20 home runs and 52 RBI in 1994 heading into his first full season in the major leagues. I think a similar stat line could easily repeat itself for Chisenhall in 2013, as he could in my mind become one of the Tribe’s leaders in home runs and RBI this year.

With last season’s Opening Day third baseman Jack Hannahan is now in Cincinnati, so Chisenhall will have third base all to himself for the first time since being at the major league level. At 190-pounds one season ago, Chisenhall also gained weight and muscle over the winter and is now up to a solid 216 lbs. He has already flexed some of that muscle for the Tribe this spring, hitting .404 with a team high four homers and 12 RBI.

With his sweet swing and mature demeanor, the Tribe may not only be chiseling in themselves a third baseman for many years to come, but a potential star in the making.

Could it be just a mirage that Chisenhall could blossom into the next left-handed hitting slugger like Thome?

We’ll just have to wait and find out.

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at jberdysz27@gmail.com.

User Comments

Steve
March 27, 2013 - 3:14 PM EDT
Adam - you can develop without being in the minors. Chisenhall wasn't stuck in neutral before he got drafted.
Jwahoo
March 26, 2013 - 10:32 PM EDT
Like Thome though, I think he will move to first when Ronnie Rodriguez comes up.
jwahoo
March 26, 2013 - 10:27 PM EDT
I think he will be more of a line drive hitter. I actually think he will be a guy who has a good hit tool with around 20-25 homers during a good year. I know Tito seems to think he won't be an on base type guy but I love his swing.
Adam
March 26, 2013 - 4:00 PM EDT
And just to make a comment about Steve's comment in regards to development time...how much development time has Chisenhall really had? I'm not saying the comparison between Chiz and Thome is perfect, but:

Chisenhall: 404 minor league games played
Thome (89-93): 638 minor league games played

I think it's pretty safe to say that Thome actually had more developmental time than Chisenhall has had in his time here. Even though Chiz is a year older this year (actually more like 6 months) than Thome was when he really broke into the league full time, Chiz really doesn't have much game experience as a pro.

Jim Berdysz
March 26, 2013 - 3:52 PM EDT
Yes, they have different swings and yes it's a different era of the game, but unlike Thome, Chisenhall was labeled as one of the Tribe's top prospects throughout his minor league career. Also, as Jim pointed out, both their minor league numbers are similar as well.

Taking the stats and comparisons out for a second, in reality, we have really only seen two small glimpses of what the former 1st round draft pick can be over the last two seasons. So while I believe Chiz will have a breakout year, the book is still out on him but this 2013 season will tell a lot of what is to come.

Like Thome did when he first came up with us, Chisenhall will start the yr hitting around 7th or 8th in the lineup where there's no question he will be getting some good pitches to hit lower in the order. He is realistically in the same position as Kipnis was last season, entering his first full yr in the majors. Like Kipnis' name was talked about almost making the All-Star team as a reserve last season, if Chisenhall stays hot like he has all spring, I honestly believe his name could be considered with a good first half this year
Adam
March 26, 2013 - 3:19 PM EDT
I could see Chisenhall putting up numbers similar to what Casey Blake put up in 2009 for the Dodgers... .280 avg with 18 HR and 79 RBI. Blake was worth almost 5 WAR that season, so obviously you'd take that from Lonnie in his first full season. Casey played outstanding defense that year though too, another thing to consider with Chiz.
Rick
March 26, 2013 - 1:08 PM EDT
No Tony. This is a magical year. Chiz can be better than Fryman. Except for an errant throw or two he has looked sharp at the corner and most improved/confident @ the plate.

Reminds me of when Choo stepped up and capitalized on his oppertunity as an interesting find. Nobody oozes ownership in the box right now like the Chiz.

No, he could be way better than Travis. This time we get to keep the best prospect at the Hot C. in a generation - rather than have him pilfered for a buck/six/eighty.

Think Greg Nettles Tony. Don't sell the Chiz short.
Matt underwood
March 26, 2013 - 12:23 PM EDT
He's gonna need to Juice like thome did then
Andy
March 26, 2013 - 11:25 AM EDT
I just hope Francona's comments that Chiz is learning how to wait for pitches he can drive are correct. He did look a lot better last season after returning from his broken arm. What a boost that would be for the lineup.
shy
March 26, 2013 - 11:11 AM EDT
A buddy asked me a couple of weeks ago for a couple sleeper Indians to put on his Fantasy team. I told him Yan Gomes who will have to go Columbus and Chisenhall. He's got great bat speed and I've seen him rope lefties end of last year and this spring which is a milestone in his development. Also Good arm and quickness around 3B and he can run pretty well. I think he could be an all star if he works hard, stays focused.
Jim
March 26, 2013 - 10:50 AM EDT
For Crying out Loud...this is a what if..not a straight up comparison...just showing the similarities in the two's numbers heading into their professional careers...

Had he taken Thome's name off this piece and just put his numbers down...then threw in the minor league numbers on top of that...there's a clear similarity...

Of course...we all know that once you get to the bigs...none of that matters...but c'mon...
Steve
March 26, 2013 - 10:48 AM EDT
Sorry, but that one extra year of developmental time makes a world of difference. I have high hopes for Chisenhall too, but you're being way too careless with this comparison. Age and developmental time is incredibly important at this stage of each's career.
Jim
March 26, 2013 - 10:13 AM EDT
Yeah Seth...if you watch him, he's definitely looking at more pitches, and I've seen him lay off curve balls away, which he's historically been very bad at hitting. He'll still look bad against really good lefties, but I suspect Francona will protect him a bit. I agree with you...(and hell hasn't frozen over...I don't think..)
Seth
March 26, 2013 - 10:08 AM EDT
The beat thing about Chisenhall's spring is he still has as many walks as strikeouts. Seems he may have made some adjustments to his approach. I think he's going to have a big year.
Jim
March 26, 2013 - 10:08 AM EDT
The swings are definitely different...that is for sure...
Tony
March 26, 2013 - 10:04 AM EDT
Yeah, Thome is probably not who I would envision Chisenhall becoming. Thome just always had that big power potential while Chisenhall does not. Though, there are definitely some similarities and you never know. The player I would probably compare Chisenhall to who he eventually becomes is Travis Fryman.
Andy
March 26, 2013 - 7:56 AM EDT
Chiz does have one sweet swing, but I really doubt that it translates to 40+ HR seasons like Thome produced six times, though it was a different era. I do think Chiz can be close to a .290 hitter with 25+ HR potential and stick at 3B way beyond his age-26 season, which is when Thome moved to 1B. I wouldn't be completely surprised if Chiz is hitting third instead of Kipnis by the time August comes around.

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