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Prospect Retro: Ian Kinsler

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Ian Kinsler was drafted by the Rangers in the 17th round in 2003, from the University of Missouri. I saw him play in college. He looked OK...a decent athlete, good swing, some command of the zone, reasonable defense, but didn't strike me as having enough pop in his bat to really thrive at higher levels. He hit .277/.352/.410 for Spokane in the Northwest League after signing, credible but hardly outstanding performance. I did not put him in the 2004 book but would have rated him a Grade C at the time.

Kinsler began 2004 with Clinton in the Midwest League and hit a stunning .402/.465/.692 in 59 games. Promoted to Frisco in the Texas League at mid-season, skipping High-A, he hit .300/.400/.480 in 71 games. He stole 23 bases on the year. I saw him play late in the year and he didn't look like the same guy I saw for Mizzou. He still had the good swing and nice strike zone judgment, but he was much stronger physically (the result of a strength training program), had more bat speed and much more pop, and even appeared to have a stronger arm. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2005 book.

2005 wasn't quite as impressive: .274/.348/.464 with 19 steals for Triple-A Oklahoma. But it was a decent consolidation season, he maintained his plate discipline, and improved defense at second base. Some scouts said he had a long swing, but this didn't show up statistically, with 89 strikeouts in 530 at-bats hardly being out of bounds. I lowered his grade slightly to Grade B, and wrote that he should hit .260-.280 in the majors with "considerable pop."

That analysis looked dead-on in his first two seasons. He hit .286/.347/.454 for the Rangers in 2006, then .263/.355/.441 in 2007. This year he has taken that a step forward with a .319/.375/.517 mark, including 41 doubles and 18 homers. His walk rate is down a little this year, but his strikeout rate is way down...just 67 Ks this year in 518 at-bats compared to 83 in 483 at-bats last season. His OPS is +135. He's a bit error-prone defensively. His range factors are above average, but both Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus rate him as below average defensively this year. However, you can accept average/mediocre defense from a second baseman who hits like this.

This could be his career year and it wouldn't surprise me to see him move back a bit next year or in 2010 back to "just" 2006-2007 level performance. If he can maintain where he is now, let alone improve, he'll be excellent of course. This is a good example of a late-blooming player who already had a good measure of polish when he entered pro ball, but who got stronger and was able to unleash that ability. He's a personal favorite. Only a handful of players from the 2003 draft are as good as Kinsler, and he's certainly outperformed many more heralded talents. Scouting and drafting will always be an inexact science/art.