When the Tigers launched into their rebuilding process, the plan, evidently, was predicated on nurturing a corps of homegrown arms and building an offense around them once established in the major leagues. The merits of that course have been debated ad nauseam over the last few years, but the fact of the matter is that Detroit’s front office has committed the team to following through on it.
Watching the farm system grow so lopsided has become a point of frustration for many fans. In advance of the 2019 draft, fans insisted that the wise course of action was to put a heavy focus on bats, and the Tigers did just that. In fact, among the first ten draftees, only two were pitchers. Third among that glut of hitters was Tennessee infielder Andre Lipcius.
Lipcius played well in 2018, but planted himself firmly on the map with an impressive junior season at Tennessee, hitting .308/.399/.586 and drawing nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He also swiped ten bases despite being forced out of the shortstop’s role due to a lack of footspeed. The 21-year-old was ranked somewhat lower by national publications than his eventual draft position — the Tigers took him with the 83rd pick — but the current regime in Detroit seems unafraid to aggressively target players they like.
Unfazed by an assignment directly to Low-A West Michigan, Lipcius did well in a 67-game sample with the ‘Caps. Batting .273/.344/.360, his power and patience numbers took a bit of a hit, but it was still eight percent above average, according to wRC+.
A significant amount of the value Lipcius offers comes at the plate. He’s an athletic hitter who has a good notion of the strike zone and a respectable amount of raw power. Baseball America noted that bringing his power into the game relies upon timing his swing mechanics correctly. “He uses the entire field with plenty of bat speed, but he has a long swing path,” they wrote in advance of the draft. “When he gets his foot down on time, he has above-average power.”
The Bless You Boys staff was able to get some live looks in at Lipcius during his stint with the ‘Caps as well. He seems to understand how to control the strike zone, poking foul balls until the pitcher gives him one he feels he can drive. In one game, Lipcius worked a pitcher for eleven pitches before finally putting a ball in play. Add it all together and the building blocks for an average hit tool emerge, with a chance at power a tick above.
True, Lipcius needs to make some improvements to maximize his offensive potential. He seems like a possible candidate for a swing change, perhaps cutting down on the inconsistencies in his somewhat modest leg kick and building in a bit more of an uppercut. Tantalizing bat speed and a mature approach he brings to each at-bat underscore his potential, though. His ceiling is perhaps as a bat-first second baseman or second-division regular at third, but there’s not a lot of margin for error.
It’s worth mentioning that Lipcius draws high grades for his intelligence and makeup, and studied nuclear engineering at Tennessee. If you like your prospect bets placed on smart players who seem likely to maximize their natural ability, Lipcius may be your guy.
He doesn’t make as much hard contact as we’d like to see from a guy with his poise at the plate, because he’s undercut by the long swing that was referenced by the Baseball America quote above. In addition to his lengthy swing mechanics, he also has a somewhat flat swing path that isn’t geared for fly balls. Therefore, while Lipcius has the requisite strength and bat speed to knock in double-digit homers, most of his power contributions will come in the form of extra-base hits. Another side effect is an uncomfortable percentage of his hard-hit balls being eaten up by the infield dirt.
When Lipcius gets himself into a pitcher’s count and switches his approach to protect the plate, he drops his modest leg kick in favor of a simpler motion. For someone who relies so much on correct timing, even a slight change in the load can make that a challenge. It also seems to remove the power in his lower half from the equation, making it all arms in an attempt not to strike out.
The chances of Lipcius contributing much defensive value are not great. Standing at 6’1” and weighing in at 195 pounds, he has an excellent baseball frame filled out with trim muscle. But he also lacks the footspeed, and therefore the range, to thrive in a defensively challenging role.
Detroit drafted him as a third baseman, and he’s going to be given the opportunity to play himself out of consideration at both second and third base. Obviously, his limited range will be an issue anywhere he plays, and some scouts think he’s destined to a first-base only future, which would put him under pressure to hit well. The Tigers were trying him at second base during his time in West Michigan, and he wasn’t terrible there. For what it’s worth, the Baseball America report referenced above also cites “good body control” and he has the arm to stick at the hot corner. Where he lands will depend on his reaction time and instincts.
The bottom line is this — Lipcius is going to be playing most of the 2020 season as a 22-year-old. He doesn’t have to set the world on fire this year, but he is going to have to display more value either in the field or at the plate in order to retain his prospect status a year from now. For now, we’ll be looking to see how he responds to pro instruction and conditioning, and hoping he can solidify a clearer path to the majors this season.
Projected Team: High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
After performing well in college and holding his own in the Midwest League, there’s really no reason to make Lipcius prove himself again at a level of talent he’s already surpassed. That’s especially the case thanks to the glut of infielders the Tigers have that will require reps somewhere between Norwich and Lakeland. An excellent performance may result in a late-season promotion to Double-A Erie. While they may want to push him a bit, don’t expect the Tigers to throw him to the wolves if he’s not ready. The team seems to value him, but he’s a prospect without a whole lot of variance in his path to major league success.