After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. This week we analyze the Tribe’s young core of players moving forward.
Tribe fans had a tough year in 2012. Expectations were high after a very promising 2011 campaign and many believed this team was ready for a playoff run. Those expectations were not met and fans were left to witness a disastrous end to a disappointing season. There were, however, a few shinning lights for Indians fans to look to in the gloomy Cleveland night.
Teams build around the middle of the field, and with Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop, Michael Brantley in center field, and Carlos Santana behind the plate, Kipnis at second base solidifies a young and promising team that shows strength and stability up the middle. With his bat and his glove, Kipnis is turning himself into the corner stone of this team. In 2013, he will enter his second season as a starter and projects to bat in one of the top three spots in the order.
New manager Terry Francona knows the importance of having a young team. He made mention of it during his press conference on Monday when he was announced as the team’s new manager.
“I know if you put a good baseball team on the field,” Francona said, “you can win and by that I know you have to develop young players.”
Kipnis is one of the best young second baseman in the American League. A potential All-Star, a potential Silver Slugger, 2013 should be a season where the Indians young infielder puts himself on the national map. Former Manager Manny Acta referred to Kipnis as a, “dirtbag,” but Francona may now be comparing him to his former second baseman, Dustin Pedroia.
Jason Kipnis was drafted in the second round of the 2009 Amateur Draft out of Arizona State University. The Sun Devil alumni had played outfield his entire career, but was open to moving to second base in order to expedite his advancement in the Indians system. It took him only three seasons to advance to the Majors. Making his debut on July 22, 2011, Kipnis quickly made his mark on the city of Cleveland.
Kipnis spent his first full season in a Major League uniform manning second base for the Cleveland Indians. He got off to a hot start, batting .280 after the first two months of the season. His batting average would dip in July and August, but the resilient Kipnis bounced back to finish strong in September. Kipnis finished the year with 86 runs scored, 14 home runs, and 152 hits in 152 games played. His runs scored, games played, and hits were second on the team to right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. He led the team with 31 stolen bases. Those 31 steals came in only 38 attempts, for an 82% success rate. A first year starter hasn’t stolen that many bases at that high a success rate since Kenny Lofton in 1992.
Offense is where it’s at for Kipnis; the 25 year old showed the plate discipline of an old veteran. Of all the pitches that were thrown to him outside the strike zone, Kipnis only swung at 24.1% of them, as opposed to the Major League average of 30.8%. This discipline helped him draw 67 walks, and reach an on base percentage of .335, well above the league average for second baseman. He also faired well when he swung at strikes, making contact with 89.4% of them; the league average is 87.2%.
For an outfielder turned infielder, Kipnis showed some fantastic improvement with his glove. He made only six errors in 145 starts at second base for a .991 fielding percentage. To put that in perspective, the 10 time gold glove winner, and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar made six errors or less in a season in which he made at least 145 starts only three times in his entire career. Of Kipnis’ six errors, only two of them were due to missed played ground balls; If Kipnis can get to it, he’s fielding it.
Beyond his stats, Kipnis brings an old school feel to this young lineup. You won’t find his name in tabloids or in the police blotter of the Plain Dealer; he just keeps his head down, and works hard every day. With diving plays, and hustle all over the field, he brings up memories of an older game, something that Indians fans can look forward to for years to come.
Kipnis will be dawning a Cleveland uniform for quite some time. By Major League baseball free agent rules, Kipnis will be under team control until 2018, and he will not be arbitration-eligible until 2015. Tribe fans needn’t fret just yet about losing their young second baseman to the auction house of the open market.
Photo: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images