Position: OF Height: 6-0 Weight: 175 Born: 6/22/82 Bats: Right Throws: Right
A year ago at this time, Ian Kinsler was an anonymous shortstop who had just finished an adequate but not outstanding pro debut in the short-season Northwest League. Now, he's one of the most intriguing middle infield prospects in baseball, and could see The Show as early as 2005. Who is this guy? Kinsler was drafted out of the University of Missouri in 2003, a 17th round pick. He'd hit .335 with six homers and 16 steals for the Tigers before the draft, decent numbers but not spectacular. Most everyone saw him as an "organization player," someone who can fill a roster spot. His pro debut at Spokane was all right, but nothing to get excited about. That changed in 2004: Kinsler destroyed the Midwest League the first two months of the season, hitting over .400 with excellent power production. Promoted to the Double-A Texas League in June, he continued to hit well, showing that his progress was genuine. He finished the season with 51 doubles, 20 homers, 98 RBI, 23 steals, 57 walks, and a combined .345 average.
I went to see Kinsler play for Frisco vs. Wichita in early July, hoping to get a good look at the .400 hitter. Kinsler is a good athlete, not super-toolsy, but strong for his size with speed a notch above average. His swing looked short, quick and sharp. Although I'm told that some people worry that his swing is too long, it looked fine to me. "Long swings" usually show up in the stat line as excessive strikeout totals, but Kinsler is not a whiff king. He works the count well, controlling the strike zone without trouble and not swinging at pitches outside the plate area. His bat has some pop in it, particularly to the gaps, where he rifles frequent extra-base shots. He already has above-average power for a player his size, and I think he has enough bat speed to keep hitting home runs at higher levels. Defensively, he shows slightly above-average range and good hands. His arm strength is average, but he's accurate with his throws and seems fundamentally sound, although his error rate is higher than ideal (20 in 71 games at Frisco). He might end up at second base eventually. Kinsler's running speed is a bit better than average, but he's fairly aggressive on the bases and will steal if the opportunity is there. Overall, he is a solid all-around player who makes the most of his natural ability.
There are no holes in Kinsler's 2004 numbers. Even if you want to make a generous park/league adjustment, you can't spin 51 doubles and 20 homers into something negative. Kinsler's walk rate is adequate, he doesn't strike out that much, and his numbers are solid across the board. His numbers at Frisco indicate he can already hit .250 or so at the Major League level, with good pop, not bad for a 22-year-old middle infielder one year out of college. Given a normal growth curve, Kinsler could develop into a Michael Young-type player. He resembles Young physically and their same-age skill profiles are similar.
Kinsler has had no serious health concerns. He went on a major strength-and-conditioning program last winter, which may be responsible for his big spike in performance this year.
What to expect
Kinsler was one of 2004's biggest positive surprises, and scouts will be watching him closely in 2005 to see if he falls back or maintains this progress. I'm optimistic at this point, and he'll get at least a Grade B+ in my 2005 book. We should see him in the Show sometime next year, although his future place in the Rangers roster scheme remains to be determined.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.