GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Spring Training is an ideal environment for a player to work on a new position. The six-week schedule allows time to get accustomed to a new perspective on the field and to iron out the kinks that go along with learning the fundamentals associated with the position in question.
This is Lonnie Chisenhall's first spring working as a right fielder, but it is not a new position. Chisenhall had to learn on the fly midway through last summer, when a suggestion made in the Minors led to a dramatic transition in the Majors. After a handful of demotions in recent years to Triple-A, Chisenhall volunteered to give up third base and try something new in the name of helping the team.
In the process, Chisenhall may have saved his career with Cleveland.
"Being able to take those hits and get back up, I'm proud of that," Chisenhall said of the past few turbulent tours with the Tribe. "Whatever this season has in store, I look forward to it."
Fans in attendance at Goodyear Ballpark for Cleveland's 6-5 loss to the Reds on Tuesday got their first look at Chisenhall as a right fielder. He did not disappoint, contributing a pair of outfield assists. He initiated a first-inning relay to cut down Jake Cave at home plate, and later helped begin a relay to stop Eugenio Suarez from turning a double into a three-base hit in the third.
Lonnie Chisenhall, Right Fielder, has 2 outfield assists today. It's the third inning.
It was a snapshot of the impressive defense Chisenhall put on display in the second half last summer.
After moving from third base to the outfield, Chisenhall logged only 354 1/3 innings in right field, but he finished with an American League-high 11 Defensive Runs Saved at the position in '15. He was one of only five right fielders to have at least 11 DRS last season, and he had by far the fewest innings among that grouping. His 35.3 UZR/150 ranked first among the 42 right fielders with at least 300 innings.
"He enjoys it, and he's good at it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's exciting for us, because you can see it directly help us win some games."
Chisenhall's switch to right field might not have happened had he not spoken up.
After being optioned to Triple-A Columbus on June 8 last season, following a rough early showing in the batter's box, Chisenhall saw the writing on the wall. Rookie third baseman Giovanny Urshela took over at third in Cleveland, putting Chisenhall's future in doubt. At that point in time, Chisenhall looked like a prime candidate to be non-tendered when the offseason arrived.
Chisenhall changed the script in his first meeting with Columbus manager Chris Tremie.
"I brought it up," Chisenhall said. "I mentioned first base, outfield, anywhere they'd like to try me to keep me in the lineup. Versatility here is huge, and in the game now it's huge, so being able to do more than one thing gives the lineup some flexibility."
Tremie passed along Chisenhall's message to Francona and members of the front office and, soon enough, the former third baseman was being tested out as a right fielder at Triple-A.
After a series of roster moves, Chisenhall returned to the Majors on July 30 and was in the lineup as a right fielder on July 31 in Oakland. Not only did he display a knack for the position, but Chisenhall began hitting better, too. Chisenhall hit .246 with a .667 OPS overall last season, but he turned in a .288 average and .756 OPS in his final 54 games after being called back up.
Chisenhall made a series of highlight-reel plays and found a home beyond the infield, convincing Cleveland to bring him back with a $2.725 million contract to avoid arbitration over the winter.
"I don't think he was as comfortable at third base as we thought," Francona said. "I think in his mind, he was always maybe wondering [if he could play elsewhere]. He worked hard to be a good third baseman, but I think in the back of his head he always thought maybe he'd be somewhere else."
For the first time in his career, Chisenhall roamed the Goodyear Ballpark outfield on Tuesday.
"I never stopped believing in myself," he said. "You keep working and stuff works out, I guess. It wasn't a Cinderella story, but it's been great for me."