The Cleveland Indians currently have a bit of a void at second base.  That’s not to say that they don’t have options on the Major League roster, but none of them seem to fit the bill:

  • Luis Valbuena hit .193 with two HR in 275 AB in 2010 and his ability to play 2B, SS and 3B make him much more palatable as a utility infielder then an everyday player
  • Asbrubal Cabrera is in place as the team’s starting shortstop
  • Jason Donald played only 88 games in 2010 (splitting time between 2B and SS) hitting .253 in 296 AB

Enter Jason Kipnis, who split time between Double and Triple-A in 2010 and posted impressive numbers:

518 At Bats
.307 Batting Average (159 Hits)
16 Home Runs
74 RBI
96 Runs
9 Stolen Bases
.386 On Base Percentage
.492 Slugging Percentage
.362 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Arizona State University (63rd overall), we have little background information to base our assumptions on.  It certainly would appear that the BABIP is inflated, making it tough for the 23-year-old to maintain a .300 plus batting average.

However, at all three levels he’s played since being drafted, he has been at .300 or better.  It is in only 629 AB, however, so it’s not the biggest sample size.  When you couple the BABIP with his 2010 strikeout rate (20.7 percent), there certainly is reason to be skeptical about his ability to hit for a high average in the Major Leagues.

In regards to the strikeout rate, there is reason to be hopeful as it actually decreased once he moved to Triple-A:

  • Double-A—22.7 percent in 203 AB
  • Triple-A—19.4 percent in 315 AB

Of course, that is not to say that he’s not going to be a usable average hitter regardless.  It’s just that, in his rookie year, he’s not likely to be a .300 hitter.  It is very likely that he comes in at the .275 range, however, which is more then usable.

Just to back that up, assuming his strikeout rate and power stayed the same, a .319 BABIP would yield a .274 average.  There is the chance that he regresses in the strikeout department, but given what he showed at Triple-A, I wouldn’t expect a huge number.

Baseball America, who ranked him as the Indians’ tenth best prospect prior to the season, said, “Kipnis has good bat speed, a quick trigger and a loose, flat swing that stays in the zone a long time. There’s occasional length to his swing, but he centers the ball consistently, uses the whole field and handles lefties and righties.”

As far as his power, there is some pop in his bat.  He had 56 extra base hits in 2010, with 32 doubles, eight triples and 16 home runs.  I wouldn’t project him to be a 20-25 HR hitter at this point, but with full-time duty he certainly should be a 12-16 home run hitter, at least, with the upside of about 20.

He also has moderate speed, making it possible that he reaches 10 SB, depending on where he hits in the batting order.  That will also determine how many R and RBI he is able to produce, but if he finds himself hitting second (which could be possible by the end of the year), he’ll be able to score 80-90 runs.

I’ll give a full projection on him later on, but a moderate projection, with full-time at bats, would be a 15/10 middle infielder with a solid average and the ability to far outperform the projections.  Second base is a deeper position then it once was, but for those in formats that require a middle infielder, this is one prospect that needs to be on your watch list.  He has the potential to be a great sleeper on draft day.

What are your thoughts on Kipnis?  Could he win the second base job in Spring Training?  What do you think his upside is?

Make sure to check out our other Prospect Reports as we wrap up 2010 and head towards 2011:


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