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Hopefully Simmons "issues" are not like Romero...

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Twins Daily 2021 Top Prospects: #2 SS Royce Lewis

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Reusse: Modern Game Unkind to Dozier, Plouffe

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Commission the rings now ... Twins sign Andrew Romine

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Recent Blogs

Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Right Field

Max Kepler has arrived, and he ain't going anywhere. At 27, he's a consummate star right fielder, excelling offensively and defensively as a key lineup fixture.

The only thing that might supplant Kepler from his position is a familiar turn of events with the player to this right. But the Twins are rather well equipped for such a scenario.
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Starter: Max Kepler
Likely Backup: Marwin Gonzalez

Depth: Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade Jr.
Prospects: Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach


Reading through the 2019 fWAR leaderboard at right field is a veritable "who's who" of MLB stardom:

Christian Yelich, MIL – 7.8

Cody Bellinger, LAD – 7.8

Mookie Betts, BOS – 6.6

George Springer, HOU – 6.5

Aaron Judge, NYY – 4.6

Bryce Harper, PHI – 4.6

Max Kepler, MIN – 4.4

Does Kepler belong in the conversation with the premier class ahead of him? Many signs points to yes.

A year ago, Kepler was one of the most obvious breakout candidates in baseball, with an offensive profile that overshadowed his modest track record. Sure enough, after three seasons of consistently mediocre production, the right fielder turned a corner, belting 36 home runs to dwarf his previous watermark of 20. His .855 OPS was a 16% improvement over his previous best.

In 134 games, Kepler crossed the plate 98 times, and drove in 90 runs. He thrived offensively as leadoff man for one of the most potent offenses in MLB history. Notably, he performed better against lefties than righties for a second consecutive year, after struggling mightily versus same-siders in the early stage of his career.

The German native has worked tirelessly on his game and developed into a tremendously refined ballplayer at the age of 27. He takes good at-bats and rarely strikes out; in fact, the only MLB players to hit 35+ home runs with a lower K-rate than his (16.6%) were Cody Bellinger, Alex Bregman, and Nolan Arenado. He's solidly above average in almost every Statcast measure.

Attached Image: keplerstatcast.png

And as the above chart shows, his defense was flat-out elite. Kepler brings the range of a solid center fielder to a position that's frequently manned by plodding sluggers, making him a key asset on the field. When he's in right and Byron Buxton's in center, it's awfully tough for baseballs to find landing spots in Minnesota's outfield, which is a strength well suited to the team's fly ball pitching staff.

Kepler's ability to capably slide over to center in Buxton's absence is a key value-booster, and one reason why the depth could easily be tested in right field. But if the reigning Twins Daily MVP can stay mostly planted where he's best, there aren't many better.

Icing on the cake? He's on the front end of his prime and under team control at favorable rates through 2024.


One could argue that no Twins player in 2019 was a more obvious beneficiary of the juiced ball than Kepler. He set a very stable baseline for himself in his first three big-league seasons: 17 HR, 19 HR, 20 HR, with slugging percentages that never topped .425. Then, he went out and blasted 36 homers and slugged .519, at a time where power numbers spiked across the league.

He was due for some positive regression, given his launch angles and ability to control the zone, but that's a stark jump. And one issue plaguing Kepler did not disappear: Since 2016, he ranks 285th out of 292 MLB hitters in BABIP. Every player behind him on that list is either old, or slow, or both.

Kepler's an above-average runner who makes tons of contact, and hits the ball reasonably hard, mostly in the air. But for whatever reason, he is stunningly ineffective at turning batted balls into hits. While his .244 BABIP in 2019 was a slight improvement over 2018's .236 mark, it was still fourth-lowest in baseball and a far cry from the league-wide standard of .300.

This is a big deal with material impact on Kepler's value. If he would've hit .280 instead of .252 last year, his overall production would've been dramatically better – especially in the OBP column, where his .336 was rather uninspiring for a leadoff man.

An abnormally low BABIP would in most cases be cause for optimism about a hitter's prospects of rebounding, but this has become Kepler's norm. And if it persists while his power numbers come back down to Earth, you've got the recipe for a return to ordinary levels of production.


Kepler's a great player who has risen to the precipice of superstardom by combining tremendous athletic gifts with a steadfast will to improve. He still has hurdles to get past, but I wouldn't bet against him.

Given that he's under guaranteed contract for another four years, and stellar defensively, Kepler is as firmly entrenched at his position as anyone on the roster. Meanwhile, the organization's No. 2 and No. 3 prospects both play that same position. Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach are both verging on major-league readiness, presenting a welcome quandary: What to do with so much high-caliber talent?

I'm sure the Twins will find a way deal with it when the time comes. Maybe Buxton's persisting lack of durability answers the question on its own. Or maybe they'll leverage the impending vacancy (?) in left field.


Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: First Base
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Second Base
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Third Base
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Shortstop
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Left Field
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Center Field

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How good would his numbers have been if he hadn't basically missed most of September? 

    • Steve Lein, JoshDungan1 and rdehring like this

Bob Allison is the best comp I can come up with in Twins history - eye test, not stats.

    • tarheeltwinsfan, puckstopper1, PDX Twin and 3 others like this


How good would his numbers have been if he hadn't basically missed most of September? 

Wasn't it longer than that, Seth?Correct me if my memory isn't accurate, but I recall him hurting his knee in Anaheim.That was in July, wasn't it?I'm not in the clubhouse, but I recall continuous comments after that about his playing on a gimpy knee.



How good would his numbers have been if he hadn't basically missed most of September?

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but aren't his final fWAR numbers skewed slightly downward due to his time spent in CF filling in for Buxton?
I think it's safe to say RF is set and in very good hands for the next few years. We have no idea if everyone will turn out, or if everyone is actually kept, but Kirilloff, Larnach and Rooker will be looking at LF/1B/DH/4th OF for the time being. And that's a very nice problem to have.

What I just can't understand, or wrap my head around, is how Kepler can have such a njce swing, make good contact, hit the ball hard, perform well against LHP, and still suffer continuously from such a low BABIP. It just doesn't make sense to me. Has he just been that unlucky? Does his swing just carry too many balls to the same location so defenses just play him better? Even a slight correction to the norm would seem to make him a STAR player.
Eye think Kepler's swing has changed. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Eye think Kepler's swing has changed. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Who (or what) is Peter in this analogy?
Because in addition to his power gains, he also posted career highs in BA and OBP, without increasing his K rate.

I love Kepler but his durability to stay as our right fielder will be tied to his ability to hit lefties. He seems to have learned how and I hope that will continue. I don't see him as a leadoff man but he does have better protection there than batting 6th or 7th.