Posted on September 12, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Cleveland Indians may soon have a new face in center field. Well, an old face in a new position. The Indians are contemplating moving second baseman Jason Kipnis to center field when he returns from injury. The Indians are in need of a new center fielder following the injury to Bradley Zimmer, who broke his hand sliding into first base Sunday night. Zimmer is expected to miss the rest of the season.
Kipnis has been on the DL since August 23 with a hamstring strain. It’s his third stint on the DL this season, but the Indians are hopeful that he’ll be able to return soon after playing in a simulated game Monday. Kipnis said he was initially caught off guard when manager Terry Francona asked to speak with him. But he soon realized it could have something to do with a possible position change.
“It kind of hit me right before the meeting,” explains Kipnis. “I was like, ‘He might actually ask me about this.’ And it happened. You just kind of take it in stride. I think me and him, we’ll see how it goes here these first couple days. They want to see it.”
Kipnis played seven games in center field and 18 games in left field during his first pro season in 2009. However, that was in the New York-Penn League. Every inning he’s played since then in both the majors and minors has been at second base. But the Indians are curious to see if he can still play there.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve still got it in me,” Kipnis said about playing center field. “I think I can still do it.”
Kipnis took fly balls in center field prior to Monday’s simulated game. At one point, he made a diving catch. However, Kipnis admits that he has to prove that he’s healthy before he starts thinking about moving to a different position.
“The main thing is just to get back and get healthy,” Kipnis said. “I can’t do anything or I can’t help anyone if I don’t do that first. But then, once we get back, I mean, the competitor in me just likes to be on the field. If it means I have to be in center, then I have to be in center. I just want to play.”
With Kipnis missing a substantial chunk of the season, Jose Ramirez has moved from third base to second base. Giovanny Urshela has taken over as Cleveland’s primary third baseman. However, he has not contributed much offensively. Urshela is hitting just .227 with an OPS of .553. Yandy Diaz, one of Cleveland’s top prospects, is also an option at third base. Diaz has provided a spark late in the season following a spectacular season at triple-A.
The Indians haven’t made any decisions about where Kipnis will play when he returns. But with 19 straight wins, the Indians are close to clinching the AL Central. That could give them some time to experiment with different lineups before the postseason. Part of that experiment could include Kipnis in center field.
“If he’s comfortable enough to do it, we might play him out there a little bit just to see how he does,” Francona said. “If he’s able to handle it, all of a sudden you go from moving somebody out of the infield — because we’ve got a really good thing going there — to adding his bat in the lineup in center field. So, again, it’s not a lock. But the fact that he was willing to try it is really meaningful to us.”
With Michael Brantley’s return from injury uncertain and Zimmer likely out for the season, the Indians have two openings in their outfield. Players like Austin Jackson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, and Tyler Naquin gives the Indians plenty of options in the outfield. But adding Kipnis to the list of options can’t hurt. On the surface, it seems unlikely that Kipnis would become Cleveland’s center fielder during the playoffs. However, it’s an option that should not be ruled out.