Let’s take a trip back to June of 2013.
This was a month that second basemen Jason Kipnis will never forget. During this time, Kipnis was arguably the best player the MLB. He practically forced his way on to the All Star team that year. In 27 games, he hit .419/.517/.1.216 with 12 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 9 stolen bases, and 25 RBI. He was absolutely incredible. Even though he didn’t provide this type of performance for the rest of the season, he was still a force to be reckoned with in the top of an Indians lineup that fought its way to the postseason.
Now, let’s take a look at 2014 Kipnis
After signing a six-year, $52.5 million extension in the spring, Kipnis followed up a great 2013 with a grisly 2014. He spent the offseason trying to bulk up to allow himself to drive the ball harder. Instead, he ended up suffering an oblique injury that essentially sapped all of his power. He stopped hitting the ball with authority, or to the opposite field like he was known for. His range at second base dropped considerably, and his speed on the base paths wasn’t anything impressive.
In 129 last year, Kipnis hit .240/.310/.640 with 25 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 22 stolen bases, and 41 RBI. He spent some time last season on the disabled list to nurse his oblique injury, but he was never able to recover his season. He just wasn’t the same kind of player the Indians were hoping to see. I don’t think this will be the same type of Kipnis that we’ll see in 2015 though.
After spending the offseason staying healthy, Kipnis came to spring training ready to compete in a wide open AL Central Division. With the addition of Brandon Moss, and bring back core players like Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, silver sluggers Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes. Along with Carlos Santana, Michael Bourn, and Carlos Carrasco, Kipnis knows he needs to step it up again this season.
Through his games so far this spring, Kipnis looks as if he’s a new player, compared to last season. He’s been able to drive the ball to the opposite field again, make some impressive plays at second base, and overall look comfortable at the plate. These are all aspects of his game that weren’t apparent last season.
There are a handful of players that the Indians will be relying on to have good season if they wish to compete this year, but I think that Kipnis, and his ability to bounce back, will be the most important of them all. He’s likely to bat either behind Moss in the sixth spot, or behind Bourn in the second spot. Either way, he’s going to be in a situation where he’ll need to return to the player he once was. Where he can drive the ball for a double, or take a walk or two to allow the guy behind him to bring him in. Either way, Kipnis will have to be better than he was last year.
The defense was the biggest disappointment of the Indians last year by far, and Kipnis was a big proponent of this as he accumulated a UZR of -8. He’s never been a fantastic infielder, but at least in 2013 he was serviceable. He’s shown some leather so far this spring, but he’ll need to continue that all season long. With Jose Ramirez taking over for Asdrubal Cabrera at short, along with Santana being the everyday first basemen, the infield defense should be better. “Should” being the key word there. Nothing will change though if Kipnis can’t deliver.
He was once given the nickname “dirtbag” as he would always get his jerseys filthy from either sliding to the plate, or going all out for a play at second. He didn’t seem to live up to that nickname last season. From what we’ve seen so far in 2015, it looks like Kipnis could be earning that title once again.
The return of a forceful Kipnis could be directly related to the Indians returning to the postseason. He’s going to be in Cleveland for a long time, and so the team is going to be relying on him every day during that time. He’s already adored by the fans, now it’s time for him to show them that he wasn’t just a one month wonder.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer