A shoulder injury forced Jason Kipnis to the DL to start the year and he went on to make two more trips to the disabled list due to hamstring issues. His performance when on the field was less than stellar, with his 82 wRC+ representing a dramatic step backward from 2016 (116), although the injuries presumably played a part in his diminished production. Kipnis' strikeout and walk rates held pretty steady, but his walk rate did fall a bit to 7.5 percent, his lowest mark since his rookie season. While Kipnis has never been a slugger, a big increase in flyball rate in 2017 (from 37.4 percent to 44.1 percent) may help him get back to 20 homers if he can stay on the field for a full season in 2018. He has a track record of good health, but the lingering hamstring issues in the second half are troubling for a player who may be forced to play the outfield more to make room for Yandy Diaz in the infield.
Kipnis is dealing with soreness in his lower back and will be held out of for the start of Cactus League play as a result, Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com reports. It's unclear how long the issue will keep Kipnis sidelined at this point, but the Indians will likely proceed cautiously with the 30-year-old seeing as he struggled with injuries throughout the 2017 campaign. If he's healthy for Opening Day, which certainly isn't a given at this point, Kipnis is expected to return to his role as the team's starting second baseman.
Kipnis is preparing to open the season as Cleveland's second baseman, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reports. During the second half of the 2017 campaign, the Indians used Kipnis in center field. While Kipnis remains an option as a reserve outfielder if injuries become an issue, the current plan is for him to open the year at the keystone. Kipnis will look to return to his old form this season, as he's coming off an injury-filled year in which he slashed just .232/.291/.414 over 90 games.
Kipnis could be an option in left field if Michael Brantley (ankle) is not ready for Opening Day, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reports. The veteran second baseman has been shopped by the Indians this offseason, which he did not take well. The market for the 30-year-old's services is understandably not robust. He is on the wrong side of the aging curve and was worth 0.7 wins in 90 games last season, according to FanGraphs. The Indians would prefer to have Jose Ramirez play second base, but Kipnis has not yet been approached about a position change. It seems likely that Kipnis will spend at least some of 2018 either in the outfield or on the bench to start games. He is entering the penultimate year of a six-year, $52.5 million extension he signed in 2014.
Kipnis went 1-for-4 with a two-run home run during Thursday's win over Minnesota. After missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury, Kipnis has shown a little life at the dish with three extra-base hits through eight games since being activated from the disabled list. Multiple injuries have limited him to just 362 plate appearances, in what's been a disappointing fantasy campaign for the typical standout. Kipnis sports an underwhelming .232/.286/.415 slash line with just 12 homers, 35 RBI, five stolen bases and 40 runs.
Kipnis is not in the lineup for Saturday's game against the Mariners. Kipnis is still within a week of returning to action, so manager Terry Francona will hold him out with the Indians playing a day game following a night game. Tyler Naquin will get the start in center field Saturday afternoon.