"Prospect" is a dirty word around these parts. It's the one-word analog of the popular but pessimistic "wait until next year" refrain. It's the bill of goods Mark Shapiro and the Dolans have sold fans as they've unloaded the Tribe's best veterans — Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia and others — in yearly fire sales because they couldn't afford to pay them market value. Don't worry, they say, we got a lot of prospects back and they're going to be good! And like the famous Grady Sizemore haul of 2001, they could actually be right. And with the Tribe's budget concerns, prospects gotten on the cheap through the draft and trades is the only viable way to build a contending squad.
Still, patience is not a virtue many fans in the Forest City have, so they don't want to hear about the prospects and how well they're doing in the minors. Which is exactly why you should head to Akron and watch the Tribe's minor-league prospects. One in particular.
Anyone who's been to an Aeros game over the past decade knows well the run of current or soon-to-be major leaguers who roamed the field there at some point in their careers. Carlos Santana, the Tribe's next (and, most agree, better version of) Victor Martinez was there in 2009, Matt LaPorta in '08, Asdrubal Cabrera in '07, Aaron Laffey in '06, Franklin Gutierrez and Fausto Carmona in '05, Grady Sizemore in '03 and Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta in '02.
Cozy little Canal Park — where all tickets are $10 or less, even for seats mere yards from the action — is not only a glorious place to spend a summer evening, it's a great place to check out those guys who will call the Jake (I still refuse to call it Progressive Field) home in the years to come, and from seats close enough to see exactly where their loogies land.
Which brings us to Lonnie Chisenhall, the one guy in Akron you should be watching this year, and a player who's already garnering some hefty praise around the league. A scout told Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman recently, "[Chisenhall's] going to be a star. He's a badass.'" The scout also laid out a pretty nice player comparison — George Brett. Not bad. Not bad at all, especially for a guy just entering his third year of pro ball.
Chisenhall was drafted by the Tribe in 2008 and has steadily climbed through the ranks — Mahoning Valley first, then Kinston and Akron for the last 24 games of 2009. He's slated to start 2010 in Akron at third base, but will probably end up in Triple-A Columbus before the season is over. All the more reason to head out to Canal Park early and see him while you can.
Tony Lastoria, who covers the Tribe's minor-league system for the Sports Time Ohio and Indians Prospect Insider websites, has this to say about the rising star: "Chisenhall is on the fast track to Cleveland and is now arguably the best third-base prospect in all of baseball. He is certainly in the top two. Many scouts throughout the game call his swing the sweetest they have seen in years. With the tutelage from Travis Fryman, he has blossomed into an above-average defensive third baseman. You combine that defensive ability at the hot corner with his potential at the plate, and that is why he is an exciting prospect and why he will be the top player to watch this season at Akron."
I can already hear the retort from the casual fan: We're getting George Brett! Shut up, writer boy. And the fickle fates of the diamond may well derail Chisenhall's ascent to Jesus Wahoo, but listen, enough people think the kid's going to be damn good that it's not silly to actually believe the kid's going to be damn good.
Independent of Chisenhall, though, the Aeros are a fine team and worthy of your attention and disposable income. They won the AA Eastern League championship last year. So it's not like you're watching the Indians of Double-A. Plus, it's baseball. And there's nothing wrong with baseball. Seeing the next George Brett's a nice bonus, though.