Tribe Spring Tune-Up: Kipnis On Track for Big Year at Second

It’s the second basemen’s turn on today’s Believing Since 1999 Tribe Spring Tune-Up. Before we get there, ignoring the massive signing of center fielder Michael Bourn last evening would be a sin.

We will get into the nitty gritty of the outfield later in this series, but the idea that the Indians have now signed 2 guys to major long-term contracts with Bourn’s 4-year, $48 million deal is simply mind-boggling. Add in the signing of Mark Reynolds along with the Choo move,  and this has been the best offseason in a very long time.

At least on paper.

Pants across Cleveland were fully off last night in celebration. The unofficial tweet of the night confirmed as much.

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 5.30.43 PM

Back to second base, Jason Kipnis returns to the starting lineup for just his second full season in Major League Baseball. Last season, Kipnis posted a final batting average of .257 while hitting 14 homers and driving in 76 runs. While the final average is certainly not what the Indians have in mind for their 2-hole hitter, he still got on base at a .335 pace and stole 31 bases. Again, 2012 was Kipnis’ first full season in Cleveland, and if he comes into this spring properly focused (not saying that’s a concern) he will be able to improve plenty upon those 2012 numbers. There’s also a sandwich named after him at the legendary Diamond Deli in Akron that all reports say is phenomenal.

The Kipnis

Behind Kipnis sit Mike Aviles and Cord Phelps, the other two currently on the 40-man roster. Aviles will serve as a very good utility man for the Tribe in 2013, and will likely start all over the diamond depending on who needs rest. He’s capable of playing at second, short, and third. Furthermore, Terry Francona has said on record that they plan on finding ways to get him into the lineup regularly.

As for Phelps, he has always performed well at the AAA level but has struggled to put it together in Cleveland. He hasn’t exactly had the chance to work out kinks, as his longest stint in MLB came in 2011 when he saw time in 35 games. Being on the same general timeline as Kipnis has not been beneficial to him, and with Aviles as the clear choice for the utility role, a spot on the active roster on opening day isn’t looking probable.

Ryan Rayburn is the lone second baseman on the list of non-roster invitees to big league camp, and certainly has an uphill battle ahead of him to make the club after a horrid 2012 in which he batted .171 in over 200 at-bats.

Down on the farm, the lone prospect listed as a second baseman in MLB.com’s organizational top 20 is Jose Ramirez (#9 on that list). He’s certainly not pushing his way to the majors anytime soon (ETA around 2015), but Ramirez was outstanding in 2012 as he hit .354 with three homers, 17 stolen bases, and 27 RBI in 70 games, splitting time at short-season Mahoning Valley and Lake County.

A bit higher on the organizational chart, Ronny Rodriguez (#4) and Tony Wolters (#7) split time with each other between second and short with advanced class-A Carolina last season and have emerged as other top options for the Tribe in their crowded middle infield picture at the lower levels. Neither posted numbers comparable to Ramirez, but both figure to be in the picture at the upper levels (presumably at least Akron this season) sooner.

The other middle infielder in this mix is the highest ranked of the bunch below top man Francisco Lindor, Dorssys Paulino. Paulino is only 18 years old, but has the most upside according to multiple evaluators. We will get more in depth about Paulino when we get to shortstop and third base, as he figures into the Tribe’s long term plans somewhere on the left side.

This kind of stuff gets me ecstatic for baseball. There’s nothing like the minor league system Major League Baseball has, and digging into it is fascinating. Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am. Shortstops are up next.

The full squad officially reports tomorrow in Goodyear, and the first game is a week from Friday, so it’s about time to kick this thing into high gear. President Obama is so excited about the whole thing that he’s giving his State of the Union speech tonight at 7. Don’t plan on anything else being on anywhere.

Go America. Go Tribe.

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