Twins Daily Awards 2016: Rookie Of The Year
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today SportsMax Kepler got a brief taste of the big leagues at the end of 2015 after a monster minor league campaign. With only seven at-bats above the Double-A level, it made sense to have Kepler start the year in Rochester. Minnesota was also experimenting with Miguel Sano, last year's Twins' Rookie of the Year, in a corner outfield spot so there wasn't a place for him to get consistent at-bats.
Kepler spent most of April and May in the Rochester line-up where he hit .282/.367/.455 with 11 extra-base hits in 30 games. At the beginning of June, the Twins recalled Kepler and he spent the rest of the season in the big leagues. There were still a few growing pains in June as he posted a 26 to 9 strikeout to walk ratio with nine doubles and three home runs. He found his power stroke in July as he cranked eight home runs on his way to posting a .898 OPS for the month. He got on base over 32% of the time in every month from June through August.
Kepler best stretch might have come when he was named co-American League Player of the Week for the week from August 1-August 7. He began that week with a three-homer, six-RBI outing against the Indians. He finished the week hitting .370/.471/.815 with four home runs and 11 RBI. "I'm not a home run hitter, so it's rare," Kepler said. "I'm trying to put the ball in play and hit it hard. I'm thankful for the backspin I was blessed with."
Not everything was a blessing for Kepler this season. While Buxton was on a tear in September, Kepler struggled through the final month by hitting .207/.255/.283 with five extra-base hits. A mild neck strain kept him out of the line-up for a handful of games. There were also some issues with Kepler's defense throughout the season. He led the AL in errors committed as a right-fielder. FanGraphs ranks him as the second worst defensive right-fielder out of players who qualified in 2016.
If the season had been a couple weeks longer, this award might have belonged to Byron Buxton. During the season's final month, he batted .287/.357/.653 (1.011) with nine home runs, six doubles, and two triples. Even with the hot month, he still only hit .225/.284/.430 for the year with a 118 to 23 strikeout to walk ratio. FanGraphs' defensive ranking placed him fifth in the AL among center fielders with over 750 innings. This was two spots ahead of perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout.
Taylor Rogers and Jorge Polanco also showed some of their long-term value to the club. Rogers was one of four Twins pitchers to post an ERA under 4.00. He showed decent control by tying the lowest BB/9 mark of his career while setting a career high mark in SO/9 for a full season league. Polanco played 50+ games over the season's final two months and hit .286/.330/.419 with 18 extra-base hits. He will likely open next year as the team's starting shortstop if he can continue to hit at that pace while improving his defense.
Even with his struggles, Kepler surprised a lot of people in 2016 and showed that his break-out 2015 campaign was not a fluke. He played in a career high 143 games after never playing more than 120 games in minor league season. There are still areas of improvement but he has the chance to be an above average major league player for most of the next decade.
In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily writers:
- Seth Stohs – 1.) Max Kepler, 2.) Jorge Polanco, 3.) Taylor Rogers
- Parker Hageman – 1.) Max Kepler, 2.) Bryon Buxton, 3.) Taylor Rogers
- Nick Nelson – 1.) Max Kepler, 2.) Bryon Buxton, 3.) Taylor Rogers
- Jeremy Nygaard – 1.) Max Kepler, 2.) Jorge Polanco, 3.) Byron Buxton
- Cody Christie – 1.) Max Kepler, 2.) Bryon Buxton, 3.) Taylor Rogers
- Steve Lien – 1.) Max Kepler, 2.) Jorge Polanco, 3.) Taylor Rogers
- Eric Pleiss – 1.) Max Kepler, 2.) Buddy Boshers, 3.) Byron Buxton
Max Kepler- 21
Byron Buxton- 8
Taylor Rogers- 6
Jorge Polanco- 5
Buddy Boshers- 2
Feel free to discuss. How would your ballot look?