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Timeline for Top Prospects: 2021 Edition

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 06:21 AM
The Minnesota Twins will enter 2021 as one of the best teams in baseball, and whether they’re projected to win the AL Central or not, a f...
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Hopefully Simmons "issues" are not like Romero...

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:08 AM
Per multiple sources, new Minnesota Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons has been delayed to the team's camp by visa issues. The exact detai...
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Twins Daily 2021 Top Prospects: Recap

Twins Minor League Talk Yesterday, 10:36 PM
What did we learn while updating our annual Twins top prospect rankings after a year that offered no minor-league games, and very little...
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A Good Comp for Jhoan Duran and His Splinker

Twins Minor League Talk Yesterday, 11:54 PM
Getting one’s head around the unusual profile of Twins pitching prospect Jhoan Duran can be tricky. It might be helpful to use a starter...
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Twins Daily 2021 Top Prospects: #7 SS Keoni Cavaco

Twins Minor League Talk Yesterday, 11:54 PM
Yes, we are still high on Keoni Cavaco, our #7 Twins prospect for 2021. Let's take a look at what's to like (a lot), what's to work on (a...
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Recent Blogs

A Massive Year for Max

There were a few disappointing performances in 2020 but perhaps none more worrisome than that of the Twins right fielder Max Kepler. After a step back from his 2019 breakout campaign, 2021 may be the most pivotal season of his career.
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Max Kepler has become much more than just the entertaining story of a rare German born baseball player reaching the Major Leagues. After his first taste of action in 2015, Kepler has become a mainstay in the Twins lineup and outfield. His middling offense exploded in a 2019 season in which he was 21% above league average according to wRC+. His agility and athleticism made him a gold glove contender in right field. Kepler comes to mind for many when they think of the “core” of this Minnesota Twins team. 2021 however may determine whether that continues to be the case.

Offensive Issues
Left handed hitters often struggle against same handed pitching and Kepler showed just how ugly this historical trend could get in 2020. In 47 at bats, Kepler mustered just 6 hits and posted a .128/.208/.170 line against southpaws after actually hitting them better than righties in 2019 with a .293/.356/.524 line. Plenty of players struggled to find their rhythm in the shortened season, but looking at Kepler’s career triple slash of .219/.288/.368 against left handed pitching suggests that his 2019 may have been a mirage.

His pull the ball in the air approach at the plate sets him up to hit the ball over the fence but really limits his batting average ceiling in the age of the shift. His career 10% walk rate isn’t awful, but it doesn’t offer much of a saving grace in the on base department either. Adding 6% to his K rate against lefties as his career shows gives Kepler little room to be a well rounded and truly consistent hitter.

All of this to say, throughout Kepler’s entire career besides 2019, he’s been a deeply flawed hitter. Despite being on the strong side of the platoon splits, continued struggles against left handed pitching would be hard to ignore if another player shows that they can produce regardless of their opponents handedness.

Up And Coming Competition
Alex Kirilloff needs no introduction at this point, but reports are also beginning to suggest that former 1st round pick Trevor Larnach might not be all that far behind him. Larnach is known for his balanced approach of controlling the strike zone and using all fields. He’s a highly touted hitter who to this point hasn’t shown a weakness to left handed pitching in his minor league career. His offensive profile is one that suggests he could avoid the massive cut in production that Kepler has shown as he matures in the MLB.

Defensively, Larnach is far from a gold glove defender in the corners. The former OSU first baseman stands at 6’4 and over 220 lb, lacking the raw athleticism of Max Kepler. That being said, the Twins used positioning to hide Jorge Polanco at shortstop and we saw the Oakland A’s turn Robbie Grossman into a Gold Glove finalist a few years ago. Defensive positioning has come a long way in baseball and having a center fielder like Byron Buxton can hide a lot of blemishes. Larnach’s defense should be adequate enough at the corners for at least the near future.

Max Kepler has been valuable to the Twins and will surely continue to be. Top prospects are approaching however, and if Kepler’s offensive output continues with his career trends outside of 2019, the bar for those prospects to clear may not be all that high. Max could rebound in 2021, but what if he doesn’t?

Kepler still has his incredibly team friendly contract attached which pays out only a bit over $20m over the next four years. On one hand, using him in a strong platoon/backup center field role wouldn’t be all that much of a waste of money. On the other, it’s a contract that other corner outfield needy teams would be very interested in. If the future of the outfield truly does consist of Kirilloff and Larnach, is Kepler’s left handed bat more valuable as a trade chip?

I still expect Max to bounce back from his 2020 performance, but I’m unsure to what degree. I expect Trevor Larnach to debut in 2021 and be a great hitter, but a performance strong enough to dethrone Kepler in right field is a long shot for any prospect. That being said, the Twins strong farm system has opened up a lot of possibilities for what the future of this team looks like. Do you think Max Kepler can continue being a cornerstone of this Twins core? Do you think Trevor Larnach could throw a wrench into those plans? Let us know below.

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12 Comments

Max really has only had the one good season when the ball was supposedly juiced so I think this article is spot on. Either they need to platoon him to get the most out of the bat or maybe Larnach is the ultimate answer.I really do love Max's defense in right and the HR power is definitely there but there are good bats on the way.He really does need a good year to prove he deserves his spot IMO. 

 

With his contract and ability to play to center I think it would be tough to trade him as he would still have value even as a platoon bat or fourth outfielder but if the right deal came along I could see it.

    • mikelink45, DocBauer, CUtomorrownight and 1 other like this

I'm just glad that someone brought up that Max has competition.I feel as though, many people just assume Kepler is the guy because of his contract and ability to back up CF.I really hope Kepler stings the ball this year, but I'd hate to trade Larnach in a deal, watch him hit .300 and hit 20 HR's from afar, and us keep the Kepler that bats .220-.250 and hits 20 HR's.

    • Danchat, DocBauer and MNT1996 like this
I don’t think we’ll see another season like 2019 out of Max, but he’ll be solid.

If nothing else, he’s one of the more reliable guys on the team. He’ll give us 140 games of solid defense and 20-25 HRs. 140 games seems like a tall order for nearly any other position player at this point.
    • MN_ExPat and wabene like this
Honestly, I'm more concerned about Buxton and his inability to stay on the field than I am with Max.
    • jjswol, Twins33 and Joey P like this

Corner OF will be the most interesting position area to watch over the next 2 years, and perhaps as soon as the trade deadline this year. It would be so much easier if Larnach batted righty to keep him and Max as 4th outfielder/platoon.

 

It feels like one of Kepler, Larnach or Kiriloff will end up getting traded. If we are after a big return it may need to be Kiriloff, but Max should also net a good return given his contract and it would help extend the Twins window with younger players controllable for more years.

 

I expect Kepler to bounce back in 2021 in a big way. He didn't even have 50 AB vs Lefties last year and he showed in 2019 that the potential is there. 

    • MN_ExPat and BeatTheRich like this
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Major League Ready
Feb 21 2021 08:06 AM

 

Kepler still has his incredibly team friendly contract attached which pays out only a bit over $20m over the next four years. On one hand, using him in a strong platoon/backup center field role wouldn’t be all that much of a waste of money. On the other, it’s a contract that other corner outfield needy teams would be very interested in. If the future of the outfield truly does consist of Kirilloff and Larnach, is Kepler’s left handed bat more valuable as a trade chip?

I still expect Max to bounce back from his 2020 performance, but I’m unsure to what degree. I expect Trevor Larnach to debut in 2021 and be a great hitter, but a performance strong enough to dethrone Kepler in right field is a long shot for any prospect. That being said, the Twins strong farm system has opened up a lot of possibilities for what the future of this team looks like. Do you think Max Kepler can continue being a cornerstone of this Twins core? Do you think Trevor Larnach could throw a wrench into those plans? Let us know below.

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Kepler's deal is actually $31.75M.

 

I would bet the FO has seen the OF situation a little differently than TD followers. Instead of trade depth, I think they saw the opportunity to end up with 3 corner OFers that collectively provide better offensive production. Rooker being RH provides the opportunity to rest one of them against tough LH pitching or use Rooker as the DH. This scenario also offers a couple other benefits. 

 

The one probably most present in the minds of the FO is that no only could this combination be quite a bit more productive than Rosario/Kepler but the team could also be better off by reallocating the payroll.

In other words, Kirilloff / Larnach / Rooker + free agent addition with savings >>> Kepler/Rosario. Of course, these players will also be under control for a longer period. We will see what happens with the CBA. The teams future is also likely gets better from whatever Kepler brings in trade.

    • denarded, Dman, DocBauer and 1 other like this
Kepler’s offense doesn’t make sense to me. His approach at the plate and his swing looks like a guy who should hit .270-.300 with solid power. Yet he always ends up hitting like .230.
    • Scott51104 likes this
I've been a Kepler fan and hopeful believer for some time now. He's a smooth athlete with a nice swing and I think what we saw in 2019 was his real potential. And I think its time for him to move down lower in the order for an RBI slot. I don't know that 2021 is really a make or break season for him as 2020 was a strange year for a lot of guys, but there have been enough holes in his performance here and there to suggest he is replaceable in the near future if a return to 2019 levels/production don't take place. It had never occurred to me until this OP, that Kepler's contract was so manageable he could have an important role still, even if he became more of a 4th OF/platoon player. Is there room for all 5 of Kirilloff, Buxton, Kepler, Larnach and Rooker? Perhaps there is. But I would speculate a trade of someone would take place in the future still.
    • Scott51104, rdehring and BeatTheRich like this
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strumdatjaguar
Feb 21 2021 02:51 PM
Is this the annual Max Kepler Breakout Season thread? I’m getting a feeling of Deja Vu.
    • ScrapTheNickname, Vanimal46 and jrod23 like this

Is this the annual Max Kepler Breakout Season thread? I’m getting a feeling of Deja Vu.


That's only because you've been here before.
    • ScrapTheNickname and MN_ExPat like this
I’m optimistic mainly because he has a nice swing and is a great athlete. I kind of feel like he’s gotten a little pull happy. I know it’s not currently popular but I liked him better when he was trying to hit line drives. Maybe this approach and using all fields will make him more consistent with the bat.
    • MN_ExPat likes this

And don't forget that Kyle Garlick kills left handers. Why do you think the FO held on to him so tight? in case they need the platoon and Rooker needs more seasoning maybe.