Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jason Kipnis Future Star or Superstar?

Jason Kipnis is one of the Indians brightest prospects.  The discussion of whether or not he breaks camp with the Indians in 2011 is an argument where fans debate service time versus lack of AAA experience.  My opinion is that Kipnis will have to succeed in AAA for more than the handful of games that he has played there thus far before the Indians bring him up to the big leagues.  Starting Kipnis off in AAA has zero downside.  The question I have is Jason Kipnis a future star or a future superstar?

Meet Jason Kipnis Video Interview (VIDEO)

ATVL: Do you have a major league player you pattern your game after?
JK: I pattern my game after Grady Sizemore and Carlos Beltran. That's what people have compared me to. But the guy I like to watch the most is Albert Pujols. I think he's the most natural hitter there is in the game.

Baseball America rates Kipnis as the Indians 3rd best prospect. Their scouts refer to him as an aggressive hitter that takes advantage of mistakes with a short powerful stroke.  He is rated as an average runner with good instincts on the bases.  As for his defense, the scouts say that he has good range and a fringe arm, and his pivot and positioning on relays both need work.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranks Kipnis the Indians top prospect with a 5-star rating.  He says that Kipnis has a short powerful stroke who consistently put the fat part of the bat on the ball.  He projects as a high on-base guy with 15-20 HR potential.

John Sickels ranked Kipnis the Indians third best prospect with a grade of B+.  Sickels Grading system here:

Jason Kipnis starred as a wide receiver on the football team and as a shortstop for the baseball team at Glenbrook High School in Northbrook, Illinois where he graduated in 2005.  He enrolled at the University of  Kentucky (UK) and redshirted his freshman year.  Following his redshirt year, Kipnis reported to the Covington Lumberjacks of the Valley Baseball League (a wood bat summer league in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia).  Back at UK, his 2006 season got off to a very good start hitting .337 with an on-base percentage (OBP) of .450 and a slugging percentage (SLG%) of .459.  Unfortunately, his season was cut short when after 34 games  he was dismissed from the team  due to a violation of team rules.  Kipnis knew that the NCAA was changing its rules starting in the 2008-2009 season which required baseball players, like basketball and football players, to sit out a year after transferring; therefore,  he took this last opportunity to transfer from UK to Arizona State University (ASU).  In an article with the website for All Things Valley League Kipnis was asked why he chose UK:
It came up at the last second, because I didn't sign until there were two weeks left in the later signing period, and I only had other offers from Eastern Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. Then Kentucky came calling at the last second, and all I knew was that they play in the SEC against Florida, LSU and all those teams, and before I even went to the school I had already said that I would go there... I eventually visited, which solidified my decision.
Following his dismissal from UK, Kipnis returned to the Covington Lumberjacks and began sending resume's out to recruiting coordinators which eventually led to a call from ASU coach Pat Murphy.  He settled in centerfield for ASU in 2008 and hit .371 with 14 home runs and 24 stolen bases and was named to the All Pac-10 First Team.  He was a draft eligible sophomore and was taken in the 4th round of the 2008 amateur draft by the San Diego Padres but decided to return for his Junior season at ASU.  In the summer following his first year at ASU, Kipnis would play for the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod League (a high level wood bat league).  While in the Cape Cod League Kipnis would struggle but he would insist it was due to trying to work on a new 2-strike approach and not the competition (full interview here):

"I struck out a lot in the summer, but it was because I was messing around with two-strike approaches to see what would work," Kipnis said. "I found one I liked, and it's worked out well for me. I'm trying to make my name as a guy who can get on base. Coach (Pat) Murphy always preaches that the best hitters in the game walk more than they strike out. I try to pride myself on that and have that mind-set going into each game."

In 2009, Kipnis hit .384 with an OBP of .500 and a SLG% of .709 with 16 HR and 71 RBI and had 27 stolen bases. He improved on the one part of his game that he set out to improve on when he came back to ASU and that was the ability to draw walks.  He drew 51 walks and struck out 32 times. For the second year in a row he was named to the Pac-10 First Team and was also named the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year.  The Cleveland Indians drafted himi in the 2nd round of the June amateur draft and signed him for $575,000 on July 10, 2009.

He reported to Rookie Ball Mahoning Valley where he played 29 games in the outfield and hit .306 with an OBP of .388 and a SLG% of .459.   After the season he reported to the Indians Fall Instructional League where he transitioned to second base.  Tony Lastoria of reported that the switch had gone well and that one scout said: "if he can stick there he has the bat that could make him explode as a prospect." 

He began the 2010 season in High A ball Kinston where he played 54 games and hit .307 with a .386 OBP and a SLG% of .492 including 6 HR and 31 RBIs.  He was promoted to AA Akron and played in 79 games and hit .311 with an OBP of .385 and a SLG% of .502 with 10 HR and 43 RBI.  He received the call to join the Columbus Clippers for the International League Playoffs and hit .455 (10 for 22) with 2 HR and 4 RBI and a 1.199 OPS.  He also hit for the cycle in the clinching game against Durham.  After the helping the Columbus Clippers defeat the Tacoma Rainiers in the AAA Championship Game Kipinis said (quote from
“What a week. What a week,” Kipnis said. “I couldn’t be happier about how the week’s gone for me and the team… They have been just unbelievable in taking me in and making me feel comfortable right away… They make it easy to hit in this lineup. You’re up every other inning basically.”
Following the 2010 AAA Playoffs, Kipnis reported to the Peoria Javelinas where he played in 19 games and had 78 at bats.  He finished the AFL season with an average of .295, an OBP of .337 and a SLG% of .628 with 3 HR and 19 RBI.

Jason Kipnis writes a blog for called Kips Korner and this is what he had to say about the transition to second base and his first year of professional baseball:

This year has been my first full season in professional baseball. I've been an outfielder for most of my career but the Cleveland Indians decided to see if my future lies at second base. So far it's been an interesting transition, but a fun one. There are numerous responsibilities that the infielders have that the outfielders don't. You have to know where you're going if the ball is not hit to you, or what bag to cover or where to throw the ball to in certain situations. I consider myself privileged to be able to learn the game from a different point of view but it hasn't come easy. I'll admit, I was almost opposed to the idea at first but it's really started to grow on me. Like any player would, I thought the change meant I wasn't skilled enough to stay in the outfield. I loved fly balls in the outfield...They never take any bad hops! So once I started to realize that the switch could be beneficial to me and might be my ticket to move up the ladder, I got to work. It's hard learning a new position all over again, especially at a higher level. It's a work in progress right now but I feel it's coming along well and I'll be able to handle my own there in no time. 

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