By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Jason Kipnis, Second Baseman, Cleveland Indians
2011 season: 36 G, 136 AB, .272 AVG, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 5 SB, .841 OPS
Kipnis was a late callup by the Indians last year, but he excelled in his relatively brief time in the Majors. It was no fluke of small sample size, either, as Kipnis was one of the top-rated prospects in the minors before coming up. He may not be a stud in one particular facet of the game, but his well-rounded offense at second base gives him a high ceiling.
A second-round pick by the Indians in 2009, Kipnis was never a tremendous power prospect, but his pop is more than you’d expect out of a typical second baseman. He launched a career-high 19 homers between the Majors and minors last year after slugging 16 the year before. Turning 25 in April, Kipnis still has time to put on more muscle, so he could top out around 20-25 homers a year. He also has shown the ability to hit for average – he owns a .career .297 average in the minors – and decent speed, racking up 17 steals while being caught just once last year.
If there’s one area where Kipnis could use improvement, it’s in his defense. He was converted to second base after being drafted as an outfielder, and it’s clear that he hasn’t entirely mastered the position yet. He was flat-out bad at the position during his time in the Majors last year, displaying poor range and a sub-par ability to turn the double play. If he doesn’t improve in the field, his defensive shortcomings could come close to canceling out his considerable offensive contributions. Still, Kipnis is young enough to make the improvements that he needs. He’s probably never going to win a Gold Glove, but he’s athletic enough to become an average fielder.
In the minors the past two years, Kipnis was largely overshadowed by Mariners prospect and fellow second baseman Dustin Ackley, who was taken one pick after Stephen Strasburg in 2009. That continued after both were promoted to the bigs last year, when Ackley again drew most of the headlines. This might be the year that Kipnis gets most of the acclaim, though, as his offense is likely to outshine his peer’s. With him, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Carlos Santana, the Indians have a young infield core that should be a major part of the team for the next few years. If that group of players continues to grow and perform well, the Indians are likely to become a playoff contender soon.
Next up on March 13: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim