Better late than never, the Indians have activated Jason Kipnis from the 10 Day DL today after he recovered from a strained shoulder. Kipnis missed much of Spring Training and played seven games in the minors on rehab assignment before returning to get back up to speed. With his activation, the Indians are at full strength for the first time this year making use of their preferred 25 man roster.
To make room for Kipnis, Yandy Diaz has been sent to AAA. Diaz definitely opened some eyes and minds with his play in Cleveland as he was considerably better defensively than expected and worse offensively. While he hits the ball extremely hard, he does so almost directly into the ground regularly and this has lead to a dismal .236/.295/.255 with just one extra base hit. While he wasn’t a disappointment by any measure, he definitely still has a lot of work to do, particularly in elevating his swing path, and it will be much easier for him to accomplish that playing every day in AAA with Rouglas Odor, who has worked on a similar transition with Bradley Zimmer.
While Diaz will be out of mind as far as the Major League team is concerned, Kipnis’ return is a huge boon for the offense. Immediately, Kipnis will move Jose Ramirez back to third so he will be directly replacing Diaz in the line-up. In the line-up, Terry Francona has been extremely consistent with the top five hitters being identical in every game to this point with the exception of three games that Michael Brantley sat out and was replaced by Brandon Guyer. Not wanting to interrupt this flow, which has been successful of late, Francona will insert Kipnis at #6, behind Jose Ramirez and regularly ahead of the Lonnie Chisenhall-Brandon Guyer platoon who have mostly been hitting 6th. With that, the number eight hitter will still be either Abraham Almonte or Austin Jackson and the ninth spot being the catcher.
Defensively, adding Kipnis could be a lateral move. Diaz was expected to be a wreck according to sources inside the Indians clubhouse, but he was actually a positive defender according to both fangraphs and the eye test. While his range wasn’t great, he made all the basic plays without incident and Francisco Lindor decreases the need for a third baseman with great range. At the same time, Ramirez was incredible defensively at second including one especially great play at the end of the last game in the Twins series, most likely his last game at second for a long time (depending on how quickly Francona makes Kipnis a full timer).
Now, Kipnis, who is slightly better than average defensively, could downgrade the team defensively (particularly on turning double plays), while Ramirez increases the Indians defensive production at third. While this may be a wash, his offensive production makes this a huge addition. Last year, Kipnis was an All-Star and he finished with a .303/.375/.451 line and 23 home runs, destroying the idea that previous injuries had sapped his power. He’s averaged 33 doubles, 14 home runs and 22 steals (with just six times caught) since he became a starter and that kind of production is completely excessive coming out of the six hole. While Diaz was a great fill in for two weeks, the Indians have been missing Kipnis and have to be extremely excited that the two time All-Star is back in the line-up.