Drafted in 2009 out of Arizona State following a junior season in which he was named the Pac-10 Player Of The Year, Kipnis has seen his star rise with the Indians. After turning down the overtures of the Padres following the 2008 season, Kipnis' stock has soared since the Indians took a flight of fancy and tried him at second base following his professional debut at Mahoning Valley. The Indians were concerned that his bat wouldn't play in a corner outfield position, and that his range wouldn't be adequate in center.
At second base however, Kipnis was able to utilize his above average athleticism, displaying good lateral range to both sides, and though he's still working on his footwork - setting up his throws and turning the pivot - he's got the soft hands, and quick release you look for in a double play partner. He'll remain a defensive work in progress for a few years but he's got the raw ability to be a an average, or perhaos even slightly above average defender at the position, though he isn't there now.
Of course, Kipnis isn't a top prospect for his defensive abilities, it's because that bat that didn't play quite well enough in a corner, plays brilliantly at an offensively weak position like second base. Though he has just one full professional season under his belt, the 23 year old is already a very polished product. He does a fantastic job keeping his lead hand inside the ball, which really allows him to drive the back hand through the zone making his swing short and powerful, and allowing him to generate impressive power from his non-ideal 5'10" 175lb frame. His swing reminds me a bit of Dustin Pedroia's. Which isn't to say I think Kipnis has his offensive potential - I don't - but they're similar. Kipnis looks like he 'pops' his swing a bit more than Pedroia's who's swing has smoother ignition. That hitch could prevent Kipnis for making the consistent contact that Pedroia does, but he's got all the power, and maybe more.
I don't put much stock into the rookie ball numbers, and there are issues lying under the surface of the otherwise impressive A+ and AA numbers - very high BABIP marks and strikeout rates that are climbing in borderline-dangerous territory. One thing that we need not fret over however, is the power which has remained consistent throughout. Projecting him forward, I see him as a .260/.320/.450 type hitter - more power than average or on-base skills.
Of course, much remains to be seen. Kipnis will be just 24 years old in 2011, and there are plenty of areas in which he can improve. Be it his eye at the plate - both in regards to decreasing his strikeout and increasing his walks - and in the fundamentals of his swing where he can do a better job of making more consistent contact.
I still see Valbuena as the better overall prospect. He's more refined in the field (although defensive metrics don't love him either) and though it hasn't completely manifested itself at the Major League level yet, I think his bat could will play similarly - albeit differently. Thankfully for the Indians, having two solid young second baseman rates as one of their good problems.
It's easy for Indians fans to be sour on Valbuena, he's turned in three relatively poor seasons, especially given the level of hope people had for him. Yet he'll be just 25 in 2011 and Kipnis, who has yet to swing a bat at AAA will be 24. The two are nearly the same age, yet clearly Valbuena is the more advanced of the two.Still, he'll need to prove himself, and soon. Because odds are Kipnis will be mashing home runs at AAA this season and eventually he's going to need to get his chance.