Arizona State's draft-eligible sophomore Jason Kipnis adds toughness to his team, according to Baseball America. PG Crosschecker compares his ability to former ASU stars Travis Buck and Andre Ethier. His coach, Pat Murphy, compares him with Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Chris Duffy (also from Arizona State).
The Valley League named the Covington outfielder to the All-Valley League team at the end of the 2007 season, while both Baseball America and PG Crosschecker named him the #2 prospect in the League (behind Luke Greinke on both lists).
He offers a rare blend of power, speed, and "grit" to Arizona State this year, and to whomever drafts him this June. (Some folks "in the know" say Jason might be a high pick.)
After a year off in 2006 (he redshirted at Kentucky), Jason hit 281/393/404 in 114 at-bats for Covington in the Valley League. He walked 18 times to 25 strikeouts, and stole 6 bases in 7 attempts. When he returned to Kentucky for his redshirt freshman year, he hit 337/450/654 in 104 at-bats, finishing with 5 triples, 6 home runs, an 18/22 BB/K ratio, and 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts.
Everything lined up for an excellent summer back in Covington, and Kipnis hammered the ball most of the year. He finished 318/498/591 in 154 at-bats, with 46 runs, 11 doubles, 9 home runs, 41 RBIs, a 49/24 BB/K ratio, and 24 stolen bases in 28 attempts. He was obviously chosen to attend the All-Star game in Front Royal, and went on to win the home run derby, delighting the crowd with 7 home runs in the second round.
ATVL: Coming out of high school in Illinois, why did you choose Kentucky?
Jason Kipnis: It came up at the last second, because I didn't sign until there were two weeks left in the later signing period, and I only had other offers from Eastern Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. Then Kentucky came calling at the last second, and all I knew was that they play in the SEC against Florida, LSU and all those teams, and before I even went to the school I had already said that I would go there... I eventually visited, which solidified my decision.
ATVL: You redshirted your freshman year. What did you do during the season?
JK: We had a real good team that year, and they had a deep outfield- they had 4 or 5 legitimate outfielders who I learned a lot from. I went to the games, watched the pitching and the outfielders, and I spent time lifting weights, trying to get bigger, and trying to learn the game. The game speeds up between college and high school- I was just trying to catch up and hold on and gain growth.
ATVL: Did you travel with the team?
JK: No- a bunch of the redshirts would lift on the weekends. I would listen to the games on the internet, and I'd call some of the players later when they were at the hotel. The coaches are leaving it up to you about how much better you want to get; it's a maturing process. It's hard to feel like a part of the team. It's not an easy transition to go from one of the top high school players to not even feeling like part of the team because you're redshirting. You have to grow as a person and as a player.
ATVL: How did you connect with Arizona State, one of the best programs in the country?
JK: I was very fortunate. Right after finals week, I called down to Virginia to the Lumberjacks to make sure they'd still have me, and they said absolutely. I went down there and started having a good start in the summer, and wrote a resume that I started sending out online to a bunch of recruiting coordinators and head coaches of schools I was interested in. It was a new chance to be recruited, and I knew what I wanted at a school now, like I'd rather be at a warm weather school, where baseball is taken a lot more seriously, and I could have a lot more fun there...eventually emails started turning into phone calls, and phone calls started turning into signed papers, so it all worked out for the best that they had interest.
Pat Murphy talked to Tim Corbin, the head coach at Vanderbilt, and he might have put in a good word for me.
ATVL: Are you feeling any more pressure coming up to your draft year?
JK: A little, because a lot of juniors try to concentrate on their own stock, but I've been given a second chance and I wasn't even thinking about the draft last year at Kentucky. Now I'm at ASU, and it's a huge pool for people to go on to the pros. It's just really exciting, but I try not to let it get to me. Our coach does a good job of keeping our heads on- and just focusing on the game.
ATVL: How was the experience at Covington?
JK: I loved it that first year- we had great coaches; Anthony Everman and Andy Chalot, who was an assistant coach at the time, and Jason Helmintoller was the manager. I got along with all three of them very well. I really enjoyed the Durhams, who were my host family; I went back with them the next year, too, and they made the whole process a hundred times easier. They were supportive in every possible way, and made the whole time there easier. I never felt homesick once or anything.
ATVL: You connected with the team by your college coach?
JK: Yes- they set it up the first year, after my freshman year. [After that,] I told them that I would love to come back for another summer, so I don't know if the coaches had plans for me to go somewhere else the next summer, but they were fine with me going back there.
JK: Yeah, it helped me a lot. There's some great pitchers in the league this summer. It was great summer for me.
ATVL: You made huge improvements from the '06 summer to the '07 summer- can you pinpoint what was the difference?
JK: If I had to guess, it would probably be that I hadn't seen live pitching coming off my redshirt year for a while, so it took time to get my feet wet and get it going. In retrospect, it was my first time seeing college pitching, and the second year I was coming off almost a full season in the SEC, which I think made the difference- playing in a season instead of sitting on the sidelines.
ATVL: You pitched in two games in the '06 season- what was that about?
JK: One of the first ones was in the first week of the season, and a lot of the guys hadn't showed up. Their seasons were still going on. So we had about four pitchers for the first week, and we had six games that week. They asked if anyone pitched, and I told them that I pitched in high school. We started to run low on pitchers, and I went in for them. I loved it!
ATVL: You had two home runs at the All-Star break in '07. You go into the home run derby, under the alias Kevin Bishop, and you win the derby pretty handily. Did that contribute to the home run tear you had in the second half?
JK: I think so. It was a confidence booster. It helped me know that I belong here and can be a power hitter if need be in this lineup. The lineup kind of forced me to be one, in the three-hole, and to move the guys around the basepaths when they got on. I think I got walked about 40 times in the first half, and the second half not so much. I started being more patient, and pitchers started getting their arms under them, and started putting a couple more balls over the plate, and I stayed patient until I got my pitch.
ATVL: What do you feel like the Valley League has done for you? How was the experience overall?
JK: It's just like Kentucky was- another growing process. It was a stepping stone for me, and it really helped me learn what kind of player I was. I learned that I can hit the ball out of the infield and I also can lay down a bunt. I learned that I need to improve my arm strength, in moving over from left field to center, so I need to work on long-tossing, which I have done this spring. It really helped me learn all the aspects of my game.
ATVL: What was the travel like, from Covington?
JK: We had some fun ones. Fauquier was about a four hour drive... and I think we went down there once and got rained out, so we had to come back. It's a lot of fun. If you have a good group of guys, like the Lumberjacks were last summer, it's not too bad. We usually split up into groups of six or seven and took vans. You find ways to pass the time.
ATVL: Do you have a major league player you pattern your game after?
JK: I pattern my game after Grady Sizemore and Carlos Beltran. That's what people have compared me to. But the guy I like to watch the most is Albert Pujols. I think he's the most natural hitter there is in the game.
I think it's clear that Jason Kipnis has a pretty bright future ahead of him! All Things Valley League will follow along as Jason and Arizona State attempt to make it back to Omaha for the College World Series, and when draft day arrives. We might just be speaking of Jason along with players such as Grady Sizemore in a few years...