When the Cleveland Indians drafted Jason Kipnis out of Arizona State in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft, he was projected as an extra outfielder-type prospect with average tools. Now, just four years later, Kipnis is the everyday second baseman for the Indians and looks to be one of the team’s true building blocks for the future.
Upon being drafted in 2009, Kipnis began establishing his “dirtbag” persona (in reference to his hustling style of play) as he quickly made his way up the ranks of the Indians’ farm system. During his first season in the minors, Kipnis hit .306 for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Low-A) while playing a solid outfield. He followed his impressive short stint with the Scrappers by hitting .300 for the Kinston Indians (High-A), leading to a promotion to Double-A Akron. It was not until he reached Akron that Kipnis made the full transition from outfield to second base, where he batted .311 in 79 games for the Aeros. Kipnis’ stint in Akron also brought about a rise in power production, as the second baseman hit ten home runs while driving in 43 runs for the Aeros as well.
While his Single- and Double-A numbers were certainly not underwhelming by any standard, Jason Kipnis’ true coming-out party did not come until he was promoted to Triple-A Columbus for the Clippers’ 2010 playoff run. In just five games, Kipnis batted .455 (10-22) and even hit for the cycle in the Clippers’ International League championship title-clinching victory. It was then that Indians fans truly began to take notice of their future second baseman, as he was just finishing his rapid ascension through the Indians minor league system and knocking on the doorstep of the big leagues.
In 2011, Kipnis played a productive 93 games for the Clippers (.280 AVG./12 HR/55 RBI/12 SB) before being promoted to Cleveland for the remainder of the season. In just 36 games with the Tribe, Kipnis batted at a .272 clip while hitting seven home runs and driving in 19 runs. He had produced strong enough numbers to solidify a starting role with the Indians for the upcoming 2012 season.
During the early-going of the 2012 season, Kipnis showed why he had made such a quick climb up the rungs of the minor league ladder. The second baseman got off to a torrid pace and appeared to be well on his way to an excellent season both at the plate and on the field. However, Kipnis’ hot bat cooled off as the season rolled along, as he hit only .233 after the All-Star break. His stellar defensive play persisted throughout the year, though, and he compiled a very respectable .991 fielding percentage for the 2012 season while leaving little evidence of any lingering struggles in adjusting from his prior positional shift from outfield to second base.
At the start of the 2013 season, while newly-acquired free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn stole most of the headlines, many experts predicted a breakout third year for Kipnis. Most fantasy baseball preview magazines and online articles listed Kipnis as one of the top five fantasy second baseman for 2013. Much to the dismay of fantasy baseball participants (not to mention Tribe fans), Kipnis struggled mightily during the early part of the season.
Most people, Terry Francona included, figured that the addition of a few solid offensive contributors (Swisher, Bourn, Mark Reynolds), as well as the expected continued development of previous members of the ball club (Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall), would allow Kipnis to see better pitches from opposing hurlers. Despite the early success of teammates such as Mark Reynolds and Carlos Santana, Kipnis just could not get into a groove during the first two months of the season. And then the month of June came along.
By the time the weather was starting to heat up, the Indians’ bats were starting to cool down. Mark Reynolds, who had gotten off to a tremendous start, had cooled off mightily. Carlos Santana’s story was the same as Reynolds. Other members of the ballclub were faltering, too, and the dismal performances of the pitching staff were not helping. So as mentions of the annual “June Swoon” were being tossed about in the conversations of Tribe fans, Jason Kipnis’ bat suddenly came to life.
Since the start of June, Kipnis has hit .398 with three home runs and 19 runs batted in, while also stealing seven bases. His once sub-.250 average is now up to .288, and he currently ranks third among all major league second basemen with 11 home runs and fourth with 45 runs batted in. He leads all second basemen in slugging percentage and OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) and is tied for the lead in stolen bases among second basemen with 17. If the numbers aren’t enough for you, Kipnis’ knack for clutch performances has been on display all season long, with his walk-off three-run home run against the Mariners on May 17th serving as one of the Tribe’s most memorable plays of the season thus far (see video below). Not bad for a guy who was once regarded as a fringe major league outfield prospect with just “average” tools.
Not since the days of Robbie Alomar has Cleveland seen a second baseman that garners as much excitement as Jason Kipnis does. His all-out approach to the game of baseball, as well as his natural abilities, have given Indians fans something to look forward to at the second base position for years to come. In the words of a t-shirt released by Fresh Brewed Tees, a sports apparel company based in Cleveland: “We are all Kipnises!”