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Jason Kipnis a surprise 30/30 candidate

6/11/2012

The topic of potential 30-homer, 30-stolen base players is always popular, and not only for fantasy baseball owners. It's not so easy to finish a baseball season with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, despite the fact four players did so last season (Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ian Kinsler). In 2010 nobody did it. A total of three players achieved this from 2008-10 (Kinsler, Grady Sizemore, Hanley Ramirez). It's tough to do!

As for this season, entering Monday Braun and Andrew McCutchen are the only players on pace for 30/30 -- so much for a big letdown season for Braun, eh? -- but there's a new surprising candidate in the race: Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis homered for the 10th time Sunday, a tiebreaking three-run blast off St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte in the ninth inning, and earlier stole his 15th base. Kipnis enters the week on pace for 27 blasts and 41 steals, and let's just say back in March we didn't forecast either of those numbers to come from the bat or legs of Cleveland's sophomore second baseman. Frankly, even after his strong April, who expected it then?

Kipnis was good last season over 150 plate appearences, hitting .272 with seven home runs and stealing five bases in as many attempts, posting a .841 OPS, and I blogged about his fine start and place atop the Player Rater for second basemen a month ago. He's still at the top, though now with a bigger lead. I think it's safe to say he's no fluke.

That said, I doubt Kipnis will continue to lead the AL in steals for long, but he's the first in the AL to reach double digits in home runs and stolen bases. Braun, Ramirez and McCutchen have done so in the NL. Ultimately, I'll predict 24 home runs and 29 stolen bases for Kipnis, which is obviously very good, and I think he has a real shot to stick with Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano as fantasy's top second baseman for the season. I blogged about Ben Zobrist on Friday, and he had a nice weekend, but as much as I like him wouldn't you have to choose Kipnis over Zorilla? I would. I'd still take Kinsler, Pedroia and Cano over Kipnis, but that's it for second base.

McCutchen was my surprise March pick to go all Matt Kemp this year, and while I hardly think the best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates will get that far, I do think he's graduated to current and future top-10 overall status. McCutchen homered for the 11th time Sunday and stole his 11th base. He has three home runs in his past seven games, but hadn't stolen a base in two weeks. It's amazing how much better McCutchen is than his woeful offensive teammates; for perspective, McCutchen is a top-10 option on the Player Rater. No other Pirates batsman is in the top 130!

I think Braun is the only player that will get to 30/30 this season. He clearly has motivation, so trade for him with confidence. I had Braun as my top player for the rest of the season in the mid-May rankings, and wouldn't alter it today. McCutchen's career best in home runs is 23. I think he falls short of 30 home runs, but he gets the 30 steals. Kemp could return in June, but I'd say the All-Star break is more like it. Still, with two DL stints for hamstring injuries, I'm skeptical he'll be running in the final three months. He's hit 12 home runs and stolen a measly two bases (in five attempts) over 36 games so far; I say he hits 34 home runs but steals only 14 bases. It's a tad disappointing for a top player, but injuries do happen.

It will be difficult for someone else off the board to rock in the final three-plus months and challenge Braun for 30/30 status. It's worth noting that last season no player managed as many as 15 home runs with 15 stolen bases after the All-Star break, so it's tough to surprise if you haven't built up a strong foundation in these categories. Only eight players supplied double digits in home runs and steals in the second half last year, the four eventual 30/30 guys plus Alex Gordon, Curtis Granderson, Pedroia and Desmond Jennings. Gordon, Granderson and Pedroia haven't even combined for 10 stolen bases yet, so I'm skeptical they'll start running all of a sudden. Jennings will, but he lacks big-time power. I see him as a 15-homer, 35-steal guy in the future.

Of course, all those gentlemen are owned in every league. I see a 20/20 season (at least) for Cincinnati Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs (96.7 percent owned, and dropping due to a recent injury). Colorado Rockies outfielder Dexter Fowler has the skills to do this, but rarely shows them in non-Coors Field games. Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa is much like Stubbs in terms of the low batting average and high strikeouts, but he can provide the counting stats, too. And if you're just hoping for double-digits in homers and steals from a free agent pickup, I'd look at Michael Saunders, Colby Rasmus, Chase Headley, Cameron Maybin, Alexei Ramirez (still!), Neil Walker, Marco Scutaro, Norichika Aoki and believe it or not, New York Mets outfielder Scott Hairston. He stole two bases in the past week and has enough power to matter in a deep league.