Jason Kipnis stands at the big league door, firmly knocking on it. The 2009 second-round pick got to that precipice by hitting his way to two levels during his first full season, then going up to the third -- and highest -- level for an exciting playoff run. The Arizona State product does look back at his climb with satisfaction, though not because of the promotions or numbers he posted.
"I accomplished what I set out to do, which is get better as a player," Kipnis said. "I think I managed to do that in a lot of areas. Am I there yet? No. Am I getting there? Yes. It's always going to be a work in progress. The main goal is to stay humble and stay focused on getting better each day. I think I got better as a player, and I'm hoping to continue that [moving] forward."
In his brief professional career, Kipnis has a .307 batting average, .386 on-base percentage and .486 slugging percentage. He's played 162 professional games, so his 17 homers and 93 RBIs do have some context. There's little doubt his bat is just about ready for Cleveland, even though he's yet to play a regular-season game above Double-A. What's even more impressive is that he put up his numbers all while learning to play second base -- a position he'd never played previously.
"I'm not saying I'm a veteran, [but] going from the outfield to the infield at this level of play, to be able to pick it up -- I think I've handled it pretty well," Kipnis said. "Am I a gold glover? No. I'm not going to say I am [going to be one] any time soon, but it's getting there. I have great coaches in Spring Training who are going to help me. I think I have the work ethic to get there. I'm excited for the opportunity."
"Whether I make the big league team, Triple-A, or Double-A -- whatever it is -- I want to force them to actually have to think about it, 'Do we want this kid up top?'" Kipnis said. "They brought me in for that challenge, to be on the big league team or to push the guys to become better who are above me. There are some things I want to get done. [Making] the big league club would be great. Am I crushed if it doesn't happen? No. But it's something I'm shooting for -- to push their hand a little."
Indians' Top 10 Prospects
1. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B: The 2008 first-rounder has been known for being one of the best pure hitters, and he's been living up to that billing. He's firmly in "knocking-on-the-door" territory, and a hot start to his spring certainly opened more eyes. The No. 36 prospect on MLB.com's Top 50 prospect list, and No. 2 third-base prospect, Chisenhall will get some Triple-A time in to start the year, but look for him in Cleveland at some point this summer.
2. Alex White, RHP: The 2009 first-rounder was outstanding in his first full season, jumping on the fast track by spending most of it at Double-A. He finished second in the system with a 2.45 ERA, hitters managed just a .220 average against him and he had an impressive 2.61 groundout-to-airout ratio. Improvement of his slider makes a future as a starter much more likely. He should move up to Triple-A and be ready for his first callup at some point this season.
3. Kipnis, 2B: Coming in at No. 4 on the second-base prospect list, Kipnis came a long way in his first full season. He can hit for average and some power. While his defense is still a work in progress, he should be just fine at second. Like Chisenhall, he'll likely start the year in Triple-A, but could see Cleveland at some point in 2011.
4. Drew Pomeranz, LHP: This is not your typical Pitchability college lefty here. Pomeranz has a plus fastball that reaches the mid-90s, and he had perhaps the best breaking ball in the 2010 Draft class. He's got a changeup and will have to use it more to succeed at the big league level. He'll also have to refine his command, which deserted him at times during his junior season at Mississippi. He still should move fast and spend time in Double-A during 2011.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
6. Nick Weglarz, OF: A very patient hitter at the plate (.383 career OBP), Weglarz also has terrific raw power, though he hasn't always tapped into it. He also has had a string of injuries curtail his development and he played in just 87 games in 2010. Still, he should be back in Triple-A Columbus and his bat should knock on the big league door soon.
7. Joe Gardner, RHP: Though Gardner led the organization in wins and strikeouts and finished fourth in ERA in his first season, the stat that tells you all you need to know about him is his sinker-induced 3.2 groundout-to-airout ratio. His other pitches lag behind -- he'll have to improve his slider and changeup to beat upper-level hitters. The 2009 third-round pick will get the chance to do that with a move to Double-A this season.
8. Tony Wolters, SS: The Indians' third-round pick from 2010, Wolters got high marks for playing the game the right way. He also showed he can hit, as he is the type of player who should have a little pop and profile well as a future No. 2 hitter. He doesn't have a ton of speed, but he might have the actions and instincts to stay at shortstop. Worst-case: he slides over and becomes a very good second baseman. He should start the year with full-season Class A Lake County.
9. Jason Knapp, RHP: Perhaps the player with the highest ceiling in the Cliff Lee deal, Knapp missed most of last season following shoulder surgery, though he returned late and looked dominant at times. He can touch the upper-90s with his fastball, and his curve has the chance to be a second plus offering. Time missed because of his shoulder hasn't helped his development. He'll likely begin as a starter in Class A Kinston, and if he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit.
10. Cord Phelps, 3B/2B: A second baseman for most of his career, Phelps showed he could play third during the Arizona Fall League, which should only help his value. After hitting .308 at two levels in 2010, he's nearly ready now and might be called upon to help at either position in Cleveland this year. His tools won't wow you, but he gets the job done and might profile best as a utility guy down the line.
Under the Radar
Austin Adams, RHP: Undersized right-handers always have to prove themselves, but this fifth-round 2009 pick out of Faulkner University has done that so far. The 5-foot-11 Adams began his first full season in Lake County, but earned a promotion to Kinston at midseason. His 2.49 ERA was good for third in the organization, and he struck out a batter per inning, all while holding opposing hitters to a combined .218 average.
Matt Packer, LHP: Senior signs taken in the 32nd round of the Draft aren't supposed to do too much, but Packer didn't get that memo. He began the year in Lake County's bullpen, moved into the rotation in May, then got bumped two levels to Double-A. Combined, his 2.04 ERA topped the Indians' system and was second in all of the Minor Leagues. He also finished fifth in the organization in strikeouts while walking only 22 all year.
Hitter of the Year -- Washington
With Chisenhall and Kipnis likely to spend extended time in the big leagues, it made sense to go with one of the 2010 Draft selections who'll be in Lake County. Both Washington and Wolters should have solid first full years, but the nod goes to Washington, with his speed helping avoid any prolonged slumps.
Pitcher of the Year -- Pomeranz
A guy like Packer -- the 2010 winner -- could sneak in and steal it, but look for Pomeranz to start in Kinston, end in Double-A Akron and lead the organization in strikeouts along the way.