2016 Fantasy Baseball: Breakout Candidate — Lonnie Chisenhall
The AL Central is certainly not the best division in baseball, but it may be the most interesting in baseball in 2016. The Kansas City Royals certainly made moves, but they lost both Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. Meanwhile, the other teams in the division all made moves to get better. It could be anyone’s division and that includes the Indians. The Indians have more starting pitching talent than any team in the division and their bullpen is certainly solid. The question is whether they will have the offense to make it.
They plugged a few holes this offseason with capable veterans like Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe. That being said, they will need some of their younger position players to step up and take the next step. Chief among those is Lonnie Chisenhall. Chisenhall came up as a third baseman, but now he is trying his hand in right field. He’s shown flashes, but he has never been able to sustain any success.
The numbers say one thing, but this is where we must remind ourselves of the numbers players worry about when they sit by themselves with their own thoughts. There are 750 big league jobs available. Each team has at least six affiliates in the minors and some have as many as eight. So each team has between 150 and 200 prospects at any one time. Assuming each team has 200 prospects, that would mean that there are 750 big league players and 6000 minor league players. If you are a AAA all-star then you are amongst the best 15 percent of professional players in the United States. This doesn’t even count leagues not affiliated with MLB. The long and short of it is, when a player fails at the big league level it isn’t necessarily anything mental. Players that are good enough to be big league regulars (and not even necessarily all-stars) are amongst the top five percent of professional players in the world.
Where he has been
Chisenhall appeared to turn the corner in 2014, but that progress was short lived. This year will be the year where we find out if Chisenhall has the chops to be a regular at the big league level or if he is destined to be a bit player. One thing is for certain, there is nothing in his mental makeup to suggest that he is struggling mentally with the challenge. Simply put, being a big league regular is difficult.
At the very least, Chisenhall didn’t have many major hiccups defensively in the outfield. As a fantasy prospect, he is a marginal fantasy outfielder, but if you add in third base eligibility he has some utility in deeper leagues. Even he can somehow replicate his success from 2014, he could end up being more than a bit piece in fantasy terms.
Where he could go
The reality is that these numbers aren’t completely horrible for a part-time outfielder. Unfortunately, decent part-time outfielders don’t help you much in fantasy baseball. Michael Brantley will begin the season on the disabled list while Will Venable will take over for him in left field. When Brantley returns, it will be a battle between Chisenhall and Venable to see who will get the playing time in right field.
April is probably Chisenhall’s last chance to solidify his spot as a regular. The numbers above probably will not be good enough to do that. If he can play some left field it will make him more versatile, but in all likelihood he will not even reach the 450 to 500 plate appearances that those projection systems have him reaching, much less the rosy 600 plate appearances.
The Rosy Picture
One of the things that mid-market teams have learned is that they must find ways to save money. One of the ways they have found is utilizing platoons to take flawed players and hide their flaws. Chisenhall has a .261/.311/.416 slash line against right handed pitchers and .241/.288/.371 slash against lefties. Unfortunately, Venable has similar splits, but the Indians will probably want to employ a right handed option to improve upon Chisenhall, so he will not reach 600 plate appearances in all likelihood.