Posted on March 20, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
One week after the Cleveland Indians shut down second baseman Jason Kipnis so he could heal from a shoulder injury, the team has some clarity on how long he’ll be out and how they may go about replacing him. After getting a second opinion on the shoulder injury, the Indians now believe that Kipnis is at least four or five weeks away from returning to game action. He’s been cleared to begin strength and conditioning but is at least a week away from starting to hit or throw.
His timeline for a return guarantees that Kipnis will start the season on the DL and won’t return to Cleveland’s lineup until mid-April at the earliest. With that in mind, the Indians are now considering their options as to how they will replace Kipnis early in the season.
One of the most likely options at the moment is Jose Ramirez moving from third base to second base until Kipnis is ready to return. Ramirez is a natural second baseman but has moved all over the diamond during his time in the majors, in large part because Kipnis was entrenched at second base in Cleveland. Last year, Ramirez spent most of the season playing either third base or left field.
“That’s probably his most comfortable position,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Ramirez playing second base. “But he hasn’t been over there very much, so we just want to give him some reps there just to keep every option open.”
Initially, the Indians were reluctant to move Ramirez to second base. However, now that they have a better idea how long they’ll be without Kipnis, Ramirez moving to second appears to be on the table. If not Ramirez, Erik Gonzalez or Michael Martinez appear to be the most likely options to start the season at second base. Neither option is all that appealing, even if it’s just for a couple weeks.
In the event Ramirez ends up sliding over to second base, Giovanny Urshela and Richie Shaffer appear to be the most likely fill-ins at third base. Francona has already mentioned Urshela, who started 76 games at third base for the Indians in 2015, as a possible candidate, calling him a “Gold-Glove caliber” defensive player. However, he’s hit just .225 with a .608 OPS in the majors.
“He’s a really aggressive hitter,” Francona said of Urshela. “As he learns to swing at pitches that he can handle, he’ll do more damage, because he’s plenty quick. We’ve all seen him turn on good fastballs, things like that. He can be overly aggressive at times. It’s also nice to know that, when the ball’s hit down there, you’re out. That’s a good feeling.”
Shaffer, meanwhile, is an interesting candidate at third base. He has just 122 major league at-bats, all coming with the Tampa Bay Rays over the last two years. But he has five home runs in that time and has already hit four home runs in 49 at-bats this spring. Defensively, he’s not at the same level as Urshela, but third base has been Shaffer’s primary position during his career, and he would undoubtedly add another power threat to Cleveland’s lineup.
The Indians aren’t ready to make a decision on who will open the season at second base, but now that they know Kipnis won’t return until mid to late April, they can consider all possibilities, including shifting Ramirez to second base. Ultimately, how the Indians want to make up their bench could have an impact on what they do at second base, a decision that may not be made until right before the start of the season.
“It’s going to be interesting that last week (of Spring Training),” said Francona. “I’m sure we’ll be pretty busy, because there’s going to be a lot of decisions to be made, and I’m sure that one could affect the next.”