Will moving to center field boost value of Jason Kipnis?

DETROIT, MI - JULY 1: Jason Kipnis
DETROIT, MI - JULY 1: Jason Kipnis /

Cleveland Indians Jason Kipnis could be an important addition to your fantasy baseball team for final weeks of the season.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis makes his return from the DL in the finale of the four-game series against the Twins on September 17.

The two-time All-Star will not assume his usual infield position, as for the first time since his days at Arizona State University, Kipnis will patrol center field.

The 30-year-old landed on the DL with a hamstring strain on August 23, the day of the Indians’ last defeat before they embarked on their historic 22-game win streak.

In Kipnis’ absence, Jose Ramirez shifted over to second base and has performed like one of the best players on the planet, hitting .413 with 21 extra-base hits including nine home runs in 75 at-bats.

Cuban rookie Yandy Diaz picked up the slack at third base, hitting .358 since the streak started, while infield replacements Erik Gonzalez (.318 including a two-homer game) and defensive whiz Giovanny Urshela (.286) have also excelled.

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Kipnis returns from injury to find that there is no vacancy at the Infield Inn for him.

The Indians’ outfield, especially center field is a different situation with Bradley Zimmer out for the season with a fractured hand and fellow rookie Greg Allen hitting just .200 (5-for-25). Perhaps the playing time demands have finally caught up with veteran Austin Jackson as he is hitting 60 points lower since the streak began than he did for the first two-thirds of the season.

The rest of the outfield looks equally unimpressive with Michael Brantley out indefinitely, Brandon Guyer resting a wrist injury and Lonnie Chisenhall nursing an injured calf. Much will be asked of Abraham Almonte and Tyler Naquin. Trade deadline acquisition Jay Bruce appears to be the only World Series-caliber outfielder at Terry Francona’s disposal.

Which brings us back to Kipnis and why he could be so valuable for the Indians and your fantasy team for the rest of the season.

There is no argument that 2017 is a disappointment for Kipnis. He is slashing .228/.285/.409 over 79 games, but that’s what three stints on the DL will do.

Kipnis missed the start of the season with a strained right rotator cuff and then landed on the DL twice with this frustrating hamstring issue.

Don’t forget that a healthy Kipnis hit a career-high 23 home runs and stole 15 bases last year, a feat that was only achieved by 11 players, including Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts and Charlie Blackmon.

The left-handed Kipnis will slot effortlessly into the predominantly right-handed Indians’ lineup, but he is not an easy-out against southpaws, hitting seven home runs with a .790 OPS against them last year.

Although concerns over his hamstring might slow Kipnis on the base paths, he has two 30+ stolen base seasons to his name.

Over the last two seasons, he is in the top-20 with hits, top-30 with runs scored and top-35 in on-base percentage. And he is available in 70% of leagues.

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As the regular season draws to a conclusion, no team is playing better baseball than the Indians. This success is contagious among the roster, so if he can remain healthy, expect Kipnis to put together his best stretch of the year, to remind everyone why he was taken with an ADP of 120.