Third-base competition will likely go to wire

Third-base competition will likely go to wire

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have six weeks to name a starting third baseman, and manager Manny Acta believes that the decision to go with either Lonnie Chisenhall or Jack Hannahan could come down to the final days of camp.

"It's probably going to take all the way until the end," Acta said on Monday. "It's going to be a tough decision for us, whichever angle you look at it. We're going to have to evaluate both guys."

The 23-year-old Chisenhall was Cleveland's first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and is considered the future for the club at the hot corner. Hannahan, on the other hand, is one of baseball's elite defenders and offers the team more veteran experience at the plate and in the clubhouse.

"We know what Hannahan can do," Acta said. "We're looking for Chisenhall to come in and make the progress we're expecting. Sometimes in Spring Training it's just hard to make a decision based on numbers. So we're going to have to zero in not only on numbers, but on the quality of at-bats and defense, and what's best for our franchise in the end."

Hannahan, who signed a one-year contract worth $1.135 million with the Indians over the winter, will likely break camp with the big league team one way or another, barring injury. If Chisenhall earns the starting nod at third base, Hannahan is versatile enough to serve as a utility infielder for the Tribe.

In the event that Hannahan wins the everyday third-base job come Opening Day, it seems likely that Chisenhall would begin the year with Triple-A Columbus in order to receive regular playing time. Acta noted that the focus when evaluating Chisenhall this spring will be on his plate appearances.

"It is more about the plate discipline," Acta said. "We saw that last year, from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues, it was a drastic change up here, and he knows it. At the same time, this guy did some good things when he had an opportunity to go out there and play more often at the end."

Last season, Chisenhall's walk rate dropped from 9.6 percent at Triple-A to just 3.6 percent in his 66-game stint with the Indians. Similarly, his strikeout rate climbed from 16.1 percent at Triple-A to 22 percent with the Tribe. Along those lines, Chisenhall's on-base percentage went from .353 in the Minors to .284 in the Majors in 2011.

Overall, Chisenhall hit .255 with seven homers and 22 RBIs for the Indians last season, while Hannahan posted a .250 average with eight homers and 40 RBIs across 110 games for Cleveland. They both enjoyed strong finishes: Chisenhall hit .315 over his final 19 games and Hannahan hit .368 from Aug. 12-Sept. 28.