Cleveland Indians: Why Jason Kipnis Will Be a Breakout Star in 2011

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Cleveland Indians: Why Jason Kipnis Will Be a Breakout Star in 2011
If given the chance, Jason Kipnis could help the Indians this year. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

With all of the attention put on the search for a third baseman, the Cleveland Indians might have just as much of a problem at second base this year.

Maybe the hole that is second base is being forgotten because some of the candidates for the third base job (Jayson Nix, Luis Valbuena) are originally second basemen. This compounds the problem, though. Nix and Valbuena probably should not be starters at either position.

The only other candidate currently officially in the mix is Jason Donald. While he is a good player with a 94 OPS+ and 0.8 wins above replacement in 88 games last year, the Indians don’t seem to be married to starting him.

Instead of hoping that one of these three players suddenly establishes themselves, the Indians should see what Jason Kipnis can do with the job.

Though young, Jason Kipnis has all of the tools needed to make the transition to major league starter. He hasn’t had a batting average below .300, an on-base percentage below .385, a slugging percentage below .459 or an OPS below .847 at any minor league level.

What makes Kipnis’ performance even more impressive is that he’s done it while learning a new position. In college at Arizona State, Kipnis played center field. Transitioning from outfield to infield is difficult to say the least, and Kipnis has done very well at it.

With the work he's put in, Kipnis has become an adequate second baseman. (Peggy Turbett/The Plain Dealer)

Not only has Kipnis’ offense not suffered in the slightest during his defensive transition, he also looks like a second baseman. I watched him play numerous games at Akron this year, and I would have never guessed that he was a converted outfielder.

Admittedly, I am a defensive purist who would rather see a 2-1 game than an 11-10 one. I love watching great defense, and that’s one of the things that stood out to me about Kipnis. He fields his position well and does a good job turning the double play. Any flaws in his defense are minimal. With the level Kipnis plays at offensively, any minimal defensive flaws don’t matter enough to keep him down.

When Kipnis was called up to the Columbus Clippers for the AAA International League playoffs, he took his game to another level. In seven games, Kipnis had a 1.199 OPS and hit for the cycle during the series’ clincher.

Clearly, Jason Kipnis does not shrink away from pressure. There seems to be no reason that he wouldn’t embrace the challenge of being the Indians’ everyday second baseman and run with it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that he will get the chance out of the gate this year.

Cleveland Indians farm director Ross Atkins says that “we’ve found there’s just a lot less pressure on a young player when they start in the minors rather than have them on the Opening Day roster.”

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I don’t care that he goes on to say that Jason Kipnis could be an exception to that rule; that rule is ridiculous. These players are being paid to play baseball, with the ultimate goal of making the big league club. Making the Opening Day roster should be a reward for hard work.

Maybe Atkins and the Tribe are trying to protect prospects debuting in the major league. When a young prospect struggles out of the gate, he can lose his job and be sent back to AAA. This creates immense pressure on prospects to prove themselves immediately.

Things rarely go well right out of the gate for prospects. Basically from the start, they are playing scared. Prospects press because of the fear of losing their jobs.

My point is if a team would just commit to the prospect from the start, he would be fine. Tell him that he is the starter and they are sticking with him, and then back it up. This eliminates most of the pressure problem.

This rule that young players should start the season in the minors, and then get called up doesn’t make sense. Prospects don’t become miraculously ready after a month in the minors; if they’re ready in May, then they’re ready a month earlier on Opening Day.

Hopefully, the Indians aren’t blinded by their arbitrary rules and see that Jason Kipnis is the best option they have at second base in 2011. Why delay the future for players who probably won’t be around for much longer? Let’s see what Kipnis has to offer the Tribe, now and in the future.

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