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Lonnie Chisenhall: Mining the Minors

Posted By Jason Catania On June 30, 2011 @ 11:17 am In Prospects,Sleepers,Stock Watch,Strategy,Waiver Wire | 4 Comments

Another top-notch prospect made his long-awaited debut this week. No point in keeping you from getting better acquainted.

Similar to the other version of this column, which drops on Fridays, the Thursday edition offers a take on players who recently made their MLB debuts or were recalled, from top-end prospects down to lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers — all with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact for this season. To help owners, I’ll include a player’s Talent Rating; but just as important is Cling Factor, which highlights the likelihood that a player will remain in the majors (or return, if already sent down) during the year.

Players listed in order of 2011 fantasy impact.

MIXED LEAGUE RELEVANT
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Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians 3B
Minor-League statistics: .265 BA; .779 OPS; 7 HRs; 44 RBIs; 47:28 K:BB over 253 ABs
Talent Rating: 8
Cling Factor: 8

For a team like the Indians, employing a 34-year-old glorified defensive specialist was a luxury that could no longer be afforded. So while barely clinging to first place in the AL Central despite practically all of their best hitters battling the injury bug recently (from Travis Hafner‘s oblique and Grady Sizemore‘s knee to Matt LaPorta‘s ankle and Shin-Soo Choo‘s thumb), the Indians finally decided there just might be better ways to make use of a roster spot than wasting it on an 11-year vet with a .640 career OPS. Adam Everett? DFA’d. The corresponding move? Calling up the 22-year-old Chisenhall, the team’s top prospect.

Let’s just hope all of Cleveland isn’t expecting The Chiz Kid to inhabit the city’s vacant throne. Chisenhall didn’t get off to a roaring start this year at Triple-A, and he did miss almost two weeks in early June after experiencing whiplash and concussion-like symptoms following a slide. But he’s been no worse for the wear since, and he’s done enough overall to warrant a call to the majors to see what he can do about jumpstarting an Indians offense that’s scoring just 3.3 runs per over the past month.

On that front, the 2008 first-rounder doesn’t have prototypical power for a third baseman, but he’s a solid 6’1″, 200, so there’s room for growth there, and he did manage 22 homers across High- and Double-A in 2009. For now, though, his swing is more geared toward gap power (i.e. doubles) than homers. While his respectable, if unspectacular, walk rate (just under 10%) and ability to make contact (17% K rate) show he has an idea at the plate, the lefty-hitting Chisenhall, has always had issues against southpaws, and his slash stats vs. lefties in his first year at Triple-A look like this: .200/.282/.360. While he’s young enough to overcome this flaw — his solid swing path will help, too — it’s still something that will likely limit him as he adjusts to big league pitchers who will exploit any and all shortcomings.

For that reason, Chisenhall conjures comparisons to Alex Gordon, another elite, lefty-swinging third base prospect who got his first real taste of the bigs at 22. Also similar? In his career, Gordon has also struggled to hit lefties (.226/.300/.392). The good news for Chisenhall is he doesn’t have quite the same expectations to deal with as Gordon once did. Think about it this way: If Chisenhall were to hit .247 with a .725 OPS and 15 HRs, 36 doubles and 60 RBIs in his first full season — those were Gordon’s 2007 stats, by the way, which don’t seem quite so awful in retrospect, do they? — I guarantee the Indians would sign up for that. Plus Gordon seems to have figured things out — he’s actually posting a nice .273/.339/.485 against lefties — even if it took him a few seasons.

Of course, Gordon got a full season in as a rookie, whereas Chisenhall won’t get that chance. So what can fantasy owners expect? Well, a good start would be to prorate Gordon’s 2007 numbers to half a season. Or to continue the third base comps, while there’s much more to like with Chisenhall in the long run (read: keeper leagues), because he’s four years younger, I’d suggest that the best case scenario is 2010 Danny Valencia: .799 OPS with 7 HRs, 18 doubles and 30-40 runs/RBIs. (I wouldn’t, however, expect anything close to Valencia’s luck-fueld .311 average from a year ago: .345 BABIP.) Those numbers aren’t going to win a league for you in 2011, but if everything clicks, it’s the kind of output that would make Chisenhall a useable corner infielder or utility play in 12-team mixed leagues.

AL-/NL-ONLY RELEVANT
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Alex Presley, Pirates OF
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 8

Mr. Golebiewski’s very astute piece from earlier in the week may have undersold Presley just a tad, in my humble opinion. Of course, that was before we found out that fellow Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata (quad) was going on the DL, opening up a path to more regular PT for a guy who was hitting .336 with 8 HRs and 18 SBs at Triple-A. The 2006 eighth-rounder is already 25, so there’s not a ton of upside, but he was Pittsburgh’s minor league player of the year in 2010 after batting .320 with an .867 OPS, 12 HRs, 85 RBIs and 13 SBs. Granted, that’s not the most impressive line around, but Presley did homer in his first game since his recall, and I have a hunch he’ll do enough while Tabata is out to make it difficult for the Pirates to send him back to the minors, so he could wind up getting three or four starts a week and perhaps find about 200 ABs from here on out. That could make him a startable OF4/5 in deep NL-only play.

Brett Cecil, Blue Jays SP
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 7

Cecil, 24, had an unexpectedly fantasy-friendly 2010, posting 15 wins, a 4.22 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. Those numbers, especially the win total, probably caused some owners to overlook even some of the more surfacey periphs, like his 9.1 H/9 and 6.1 K/9. Digging a little deeper, it’s clear that the lefty 2007 supplemental pick 1) had a problem getting out righties (1.42 WHIP) last year, and 2) somehow went 4-0 in September despite — get this — a 6.92 ERA and a 1.96 WHIP. Take away those four wins, and all of a sudden Cecil’s 2010 doesn’t look nearly as impressive. So it shouldn’t have been a total shock when he came away from his first four starts of 2011 with a 6.86 ERA and 1.67 WHIP, which got him demoted to Triple-A. While pitching in a tough PCL/Las Vegas environment, he hasn’t fared much better (5.26 ERA, 1.44 WHIP), but he does sport a shiny 8-2 record. Look, maybe Cecil just has a knack for winning ugly, but I don’t want to find out unless I’m desperate for a starter in AL-only play. Even then, I’d prefer to add-and-stash-not-start while I take in his first few outings.

Chase d’Arnaud, Pirates 3B/SS
Talent Rating: 6
Cling Factor: 7

Again, I invite you to click on the link above for Golebiewski’s take, which did d’Arnaud justice. Which is to say, he’s not all that exciting. The best that can be said about the 2008 fourth-rounder is that he’s got enough speed to steal 20 or so bases over a full season in the majors, he’s not inept at the dish (.770 OPS in minors) and he’ll get eligibility at both 3B and SS — seriously, it’s time Pittsburgh gives up on the Great Ronny Cedeno Experiment — provided he hits enough to stick with the Pirates for a while. In very deep NL-only leagues, he could help at middle infield. (FYI: His brother Travis, in the Blue Jays system, is one of baseball’s top catching prospects.)

Chris Carter, A’s 1B/OF/DH
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 5

Recalled when the A’s put Josh Willingham (Achilles) on the DL, Carter won’t stay too long this time around. Willingham is due back in early July, and Carter’s game remains much the same — lots of power (8 HRs in 109 ABs), lots of walks (19% BB rate) and lots of Ks (36%). You may remember the slugger led the minors in total bases in both 2008 and 2009. You may also remember when he started his big-league career off last year by going 0-for-33 with 13 Ks. At 24, he probably is what he is at this point: a three-true-outcomes type hitter who will have a decent but ultimately disappointing career. He’d be worth an add in AL play as a reserve if there was any hope of regular at-bats. There’s not.

Mat Gamel, Brewers 1B/DH
Talent Rating: 7
Cling Factor: 5

Fantasy owners have been familiar with Gamel, 25, for quite some time. He and Matt LaPorta once tore up Double-A together when both were in the Brewers system. But despite a .304/.377/.499 line in his minor-league career, the fourth round pick in the 2005 draft has never gotten an extended look in the bigs, primarily because he’s incapable of playing “defense” at any position other than first base (Prince Fielder in the way much?). He’s actually on pace for his best season — .321, 18 HRs, 21 doubles, 58 RBIs — but he’s only up to get some time at DH during the remaining bits of interleague play. There is a chance the Brewers could trade him next month as they continue their 2011-or-bust run, which would make Gamel an intriguing add in single-league play (he’s sort of like the NL’s version of Chris Davis), but Milwaukee may also want him to stick around for next year, when Fielder is out of the way. Which would put him SOL until then.

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If you want quick fantasy analysis of another recently promoted or recalled player, feel free to post in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can.


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