Second base job is Kipnis’ to lose
For the fourth time in the last four seasons, the Cleveland Indians will once again open a season with a different starting second baseman. The previous three manning the position on Opening Day could be viewed by many Tribe fans as stopgaps, waiting for the second baseman of the future to finally make his way to the big leagues.
Jason Kipnis is that second baseman, and barring any injuries or setbacks in spring training, he will be the starter at second base when the Indians open the season on April 5 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Getting the call to the Major Leagues toward the end of July last season, Kipnis lived up to his high expectations he has had throughout his entire minor league career. After going just three for his first 22 at bats with the Tribe, Kipnis broke out in a big way last August batting .348 with five home runs and nine RBI. In the same month, the former 2009 second round pick had a stretch where he slugged four homers in four straight games, sporting a .412 on-base percentage through the first half of August, before being sidelined by a strained right hamstring.
When it was all said and done, Kipnis ended up finishing his rookie season batting .272 with seven home runs and 19 RBI, where 17 of his 36 hits where extra-base hits, and his .841 OPS was the Indians second highest on the team behind Jim Thome. More importantly, Kipnis gave the Indians that spark on offense they were missing, giving fans reasons to believe and get excited about this upcoming season.
As one of Indians manager Manny Acta’s “dirtbags,” it would be difficult to say expectations aren’t high for the former Arizona State Sun Devil once again in 2012. The soon to be 25-year-old brings with him a great track record throughout the minor leagues, where he has won multiple awards and All-Star selections, including being the starting second baseman in last year’s Futures Game. Kipnis has also been highlighted as the top position player in the Indians organization each of the past two seasons by winning the Lou Boudreau Award, the Tribe’s first back-to-back winner since Victor Martinez in 2002.
With 136 at-bats with the Indians in 2011 though, Kipnis will no longer be considered a rookie in the Major Leagues, as he is just seven at-bats over the league rookie cutoff. If Kipnis wants to stay in the Tribe lineup and more importantly in the big leagues, he is going to need to stay away from the dreaded sophomore slump. In order to do this, he will need to make the necessary adjustments to the league and opposing pitchers in what will be his first full season in the Major Leagues in 2012.
As it is for any young hitter in the Major Leagues, consistency will be the key for Kipnis going forward. The Indians second baseman was consistent both against lefties (.263) and righties (.276) last season, but to help him succeed and stay consistent further also rests on the shoulders of Tribe manager Manny Acta. The Indians skipper would be wise leaving Kipnis the two-hole in the lineup to start the season, the same spot he batted .284 in 116 of those 136 at bats last season.
If there ever was a knock on Kipnis it would be his defense, where he made six errors in his first 36 games with the Tribe last season. This comes as no surprise after transitioning to the second base position just two seasons ago, and playing the outfield throughout his college career. With the Tribe boasting many sinkerballers in their starting rotation, Kipnis will need to step his game up defensively at second base for not only 2012, but beyond as well.
Based on his minor league track record and early success in the Major Leagues in 2011, Kipnis is no doubt a breakout candidate for the Tribe this season. He has a career .297 minor league batting average (never hitting below .280), and has posted an OPS of .840 or higher throughout his time in the Indians minor league system. If he can put up numbers anywhere close to his minor league averages, it’s safe to say we will all be “Kipnises” in 2012.
Kipnis 2012 projection: 500 AB, 80 R, .285 AVG, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 20 SB, .330 OBP, .460 SLG
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.