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Getting behind Lonnie Chisenhall in center field

Lonnie Chisenhall has made an impression on manager Terry Francona and staff through his brief time in center field to start the 2017 season.

CLEVELAND – Lonnie Chisenhall is accustomed to adjusting on the fly. From playing in bunt formation at the cut of the grass to fielding a no doubles defense in front of the warning track - Chisenhall has done it all.

Over the course of his six-year major league tenure, Chisenhall has logged action at third base (2,794.1 innings), right field (1,241.1 innings) and first base (64.1 innings). With Rajai Davis signing in Oakland and Tyler Naquin relocating in Triple-A Columbus, the 28-year-old’s defensive resume has added center field to its work experience.

“For a guy that hasn’t been very experienced in the outfield, that’s been one of the things that’s been a little bit surprising is his ability to get behind the ball,” said manager Terry Francona. “I thought he did a real good job of that. That’s one of the hardest things I think for guys that haven’t been out there. They won’t go full speed; they’ll just kind of glide a little bit.”

Gliding to the ball does not suit Chisenhall’s skill set as he recorded 11 defensive runs saved (DRS) and a 9.3 ultimate zone rating (UZR) in 2015, a statistic that quantifies how many runs a player saves on the defensive side of the ball. Although his 2015 performance in right field rated as “great” according to Fangraphs, Chisenhall’s outfield numbers regressed in 2016 with 3 DRS and a -2.6 UZR (rated as average).

“I don’t know; I do know it’s a little different,” Francona said about whether Chisenhall’s time at third base helped him transition to the outfield. “He got a ball and he was going to try to throw it out, but it took about a step and a half as opposed to maybe a half step because he wanted to get more on it. And when the outfielder takes a step and a half, that guy coming around third is usually taking about two and a half (steps) because he’s got his momentum going.”

Now that a new season is here, Chisenhall has been called upon to make two starts in center field after spending eight career innings at the position since his MLB debut in 2011. It is a small sample size, but Chisenhall is already making strides and potentially solidifying a spot in a center field platoon alongside veteran Austin Jackson.

“I thought [Saturday] there was a ball that he got behind real well. He got behind it and it just turned out to be no advancement, nobody even thought anything of it,” said Francona. “Lonnie’s been so good about – from the very first day in Oakland – about getting behind that ball and making tougher plays easier and then also being ready to throw. His throwing action from the outfield is phenomenal.”

The 28th overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft is still fine-tuning his craft, but his arm strength and natural athletic ability makes him a qualified applicant for the center field job in 2017.

“They encouraged [playing center field] last spring and this spring,” Chisenhall said. “As much as they need me to be out there, I can be out there.”

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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