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Why You Should Pass on Ackley and Wait for Kipnis

In the FanGraphs mock draft, the first three second basemen off the board were exactly who you would expect: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler. The fourth was Dustin Ackley, the soon-to-be 24-year-old second basemen of the Seattle Mariners. Ackley was a top prospect prior to the 2011 season, and didn’t disappoint in his first taste of the big leagues, posting a .765 OPS with six home runs and six stolen bases in just 90 games.

Fast forward six rounds, and Jason Kipnis became the tenth 2B selected, grabbed with the second pick in the tenth round. Kipnis tore apart the American League in his first 36 games, posting an .840 OPS with seven home runs and five stolen bases. So why did he go 69 picks later than Ackley in the mock draft?

Jeff Zimmerman started to touch on this a week back, commenting that “The pick of Ackley was too high” and that “Kipnis has the chance to be a stud.” But lest we assume this was just a case of Brandon Warne being trigger happy on Ackley, across all mock drafts on Mock Draft Central to date, Kipnis has been going, on average, more than 60 picks after Ackley.

Ackley has almost universally been seen as the better prospect, but the there is really only one number that bears this out: his age. Kipnis is 14 months older than Ackley and the two have been at roughly the same level throughout their careers, although Ackley has consistently moved up a half-step ahead of Kipnis.

Both got their first taste of Double-A in 2010. Ackley hit .260/.386/.381 with two home runs and eight stolen bases over 350 plate appearances. In almost the same number of PA, Kipnis had a .311/.385/.502 line, including 10 HR and seven SB. That said, Kipnis’s line was BABIP inflated, and Ackley posted better plate discipline numbers, walking more (15.7% BB-rate) than Kipnis (8.7%) and striking out less (11.7% to 17.2%). Kipnis, though, had a much higher ISO, clocking in at .190 to Ackley’s .121.

Ackley also got a taste of Triple-A in 2010, and both players started 2011 in Triple-A. Ackley maintained his plate discipline and made strides in his power stroke, slashing .303/.421/.487 in 331 PA for Tacoma in 2011, with nine HR and seven SB. In his first shot at Triple-A pitching, Kipnis posted a .280/.362/.484 with 12 HR and 12 SB in 400 PA. He also increased his walk rate, without taking too many more strikeouts, and saw his ISO top .200 for the first time. Ackley played his Double- and Triple-A games in parks that are pretty hitter-neutral, although the PCL does have a reputation as a hitter’s league. Kipnis also played in pretty neutral parks, but his Double-A games came in Akron, where HRs from right-handed batters are significantly suppressed.

Looking at those numbers, including their respective stints in the bigs, there is not a ton to separate the two – Ackley has better plate discipline and put up his numbers at a younger age; Kipnis has the better MLB numbers and has more power. If you ask me who I would rather have for the long-haul, I would probably say Ackley is the answer, but I don’t think it is clear-cut by any means. The Indians, for example, are short on right-handed power, and probably wouldn’t even consider swapping Kipnis for Ackley. From a fantasy perspective, a team that wants AVG or OBP help is probably better off betting on Ackley, while a team that wants power from the MI should probably go with Kipnis.

But if you go back to the top of the article, you’ll see that to get Ackley, you have to take him about 60 picks earlier than you have to take Kipnis. And when you add in that cost, Kipnis is a far preferable choice. The three guys selected after Ackley in the FanGraphs mock draft were Brian McCann, Zack Greinke, and Dan Haren. Instead of Ackley, Brandon Warne could have taken any of those three (or Eric Hosmer, or Stephen Strasburg, or any number of other players, if he wanted to focus on youth), and still nabbed Kipnis in the 9th round, where he took Mark Reynolds.

It is still early, and maybe over the next couple months, people will decide to wait on Ackley or move earlier on Kipnis, but until that happens, the premium cost for Ackley just doesn’t make sense when Kipnis may very well provide the same production for a much, much lower price.