Among the lower tiers of prospects, there are a few general types. There are players with one loud tool, or a particular role in which to excel that forms a narrow pathway to the major leagues. There are young players who may appear raw and undersized, but have plenty of potential projection left to them as they grow, learn, and get stronger. Then there is the all-around player who doesn’t stand out much, but has more polish to his game and few distinct weaknesses. Infielder Andre Lipcius is a good example of that last group.
Upside is certainly important in evaluating prospects, and by and large we’re probably more prone to betting on the players with the loudest tools. However, likelihood of success is also a big component of grading or ranking prospects, and this is where Lipcius fits in. He probably won’t ever hit for enough power to become a full-time third baseman, but his hit tool and defensive ability give him a fairly good chance for a career as a utility player.
Lipcius hails from Annapolis, Maryland and played his college ball for the University of Tennessee. The Tigers selected him in the third round of the 2019 amateur draft. The go-to detail with Lipcius is the fact that he studied nuclear engineering in college, and brings some analytical firepower to his approach to improvement on the baseball diamond.
He wasn’t exactly sought after as a prep prospect, and at Tennessee, Lipcius moved positions from first base his freshman year, to shortstop, and finally to third base his junior year, the position that appears the most natural fit for him defensively. What really led him to getting selected 83rd overall in 2019, was the work he put in with Vols hitting coach Josh Elander once Elander joined the coaching staff prior to Lipcius’ sophomore year in 2018.
His bat made a real leap that season, with Lipcius posting an .872 OPS with seven home runs in 56 games. In 2019, he had an even bigger year, with a .985 OPS and 17 home runs in 61 games. The strength of his development as a hitter, coupled with sound defensive fundamentals and a good arm, formed a relatively complete package the Tigers were willing to spend the first pick in the third round on.
Lipcius has a fairly disciplined approach and a willingness to shorten up and battle a pitcher in two-strike mode. In fact, he may go too far in that aspect, as he really will just play pepper with a pitcher in those situations. Lipcius has the hands to make plenty of contact, but is also likely to be vulnerable to better breaking stuff as he progresses through the minor leagues. He generally draws average raw power grades, but doesn’t seem likely to get to enough of it in-game. As we saw in his brief 2019 tour of West Michigan, Lipcius will spray line drives and ground balls to all parts of the field, but his swing and approach aren’t really built for power.
Defensively, Lipcius has good hands, plays with good fundamentals and instincts, and has the arm to comfortably handle third base. Below average speed does limit him a bit defensively and on the basepaths. He could probably handle shortstop in a pinch, but his future is going to see him playing the other three infield positions depending on how the bat progresses.
So far this has probably sounded pretty good. Some feel to hit and plate discipline, with a versatile glove and enough arm to play third base. He draws good marks for brains and work ethic and has shown the ability to implement adjustments and improve. The question is where to find enough upside in a non-shortstop infielder without much power potential.
Even if we bet on him working out in terms of pure hitting and on base percentage, and proving out as a quality defender with some versatility, there is still the matter of power production. The physical ability to hit 20-25 home runs is certainly present, but his swing and approach are decidedly focused on putting the ball in play. He held his own in his 67 game pro debut in Class-A West Michigan post-draft, but was overpowered at times and didn’t drive the ball with a lot of authority.
Right now he looks like a player who could be successful into the upper minors, but more of a bit player at the major league level even if things go well according to plan. Lipcius is in a group of recent college position players the Tigers have drafted who all entered the year of COVID with big question marks and didn’t get a chance yet to answer them. If he starts making more hard contact he’ll be a name to watch. Until then he’s still a step behind guys like Nick Quintana and Kody Clemens.
Projected 2021 team: Advanced-A West Michigan Whitecaps
This is where things get a bit tricky. Lipcius played for the Whitecaps in 2019, but with the minor league realignment, the Midwest League is now considered the advanced level. West Michigan is also a possible landing spot for 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson, who is working at third base for the time being to see if he can pick it up to an acceptable degree. Maybe they each play some first and third, or perhaps Torkelson starts in Lakeland with the organization’s player development staff, before embarking on what should be an aggressive path through the minor league levels. Either way, for Lipcius to stay on track he needs to get to Double-A Erie this season and prove capable of doing more damage against a better caliber of pitcher.