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Breakout Or Break Off With Max Kepler

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 12 February 2018 · 698 views

minnesota twins max kepler chris archer tampa bay rays
Over the weekend, the Minnesota Twins missed out on Yu Darvish as he joined Chris Gimenez and the Chicago Cubs. While I feel a bit disappointed Derek Falvey and Thad Levine didn't position themselves better with a six year offer, it's now a moot point. At this juncture a pivot to available free agents and the trade market has become a new reality. On the latter point, Minnesota's most available asset seems to be Max Kepler. It's worth wondering though, is that a good thing?

A season ago, Kepler put up his highest OPS in the big league (.737), and got in his first full major league season. Coming into the 2016 season, Kepler debuted on all three (Baseball America, MLB, and Baseball Prospectus) Top 100 prospect lists, and ranked 30th, 44th, and 60th respectively. After putting together a steady upward trend in the minors, the belief was there that Minnesota had a real big league talent on their hands. While the .737 OPS is more than serviceable, it also leaves a bit to be desired. What I'm nearly certain about, is that Kepler is capable of harnessing that ability.

In 2017, Kepler became a platoon player down the stretch. With the Twins in the midst of a postseason race, Paul Molitor decided he simply couldn't have a player with a .453 OPS against left-handed pitching garnering significant at bats. Despite the .828 OPS against righties, only two of Kepler's 19 homers came off of southpaws, and he racked up a 40/7 K/BB ratio. Looking back to 2016, the numbers improve but hardly jump off the page. In his rookie year, Kepler compiled a .595 OPS against lefties with two of his 17 homers and a 34/10 K/BB. In short, Kepler owns a 74/17 K/BB against same-handed pitchers in the big leagues, and he's hit just four of his 36 longballs off of them.

You'd be hard pressed to argue Kepler deserves more than a platoon situation with those numbers (though I did find it frustrating at times in 2017). What's also fair to suggest is that he's a 25 year-old unfinished product who's shown an ability much better than what the big leagues have seen. Having never played Triple-A, Kepler's two best seasons in the minors came at Double-A in 2015, and High-A in 2014. Against lefties in those two campaigns he posted an .863 OPS (1 HR 15/12 K/BB) and a .691 OPS (1 HR 26/3 K/BB) respectively. The Double-A numbers are inflated some due to a season with 13 triples, but they are also buoyed by an approach that saw him walk more times than he struck out for the first time in his big league career.

During 2017, Kepler slightly decreased his chase rate, with slightly increasing his swinging strike percentage. His contact slipped slightly, but was on par with his career averages. His hard hit rate remained static, and the only notable dip among batted balls was a 3% drop in HR/FB ratio. What could be an untapped area of improvement is one of contention for Kepler, his launch angle. In 2016, the average on base hits fell at 10.4 degrees. That number came in at just 8.8 degrees a year ago. Parker Hageman of Twins Daily actually looked in depth on this topic as it pertain to Kepler last March. Kepler's approach is to line the ball, with backspin, or get right with ground balls. With the power and stroke he has, a heightened launch angle would likely bring a good deal more success.

What should be somewhat common sense is that a 25 year-old, highly regarded prospect, is far from a finished product. For Kepler to maximize his output in Minnesota however, the results will first need to change against pitchers attacking him from his side of the plate. There's a few keys for him to get there, with contact and launch angle being two of the avenues. What wouldn't be shocking is if it came together relatively quickly, and the German born big leaguer had a breakout season in front of him.

After making his way through Elizabethton at age 19, it took him stops at Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers before truly settling into his own. It wasn't until 2015 as a 22 year-old at Double-A that Kepler posted his first full season .800 OPS on the farm. That's hardly a knock on ability as much as it is a highlight of a growing process. Entering his third season with the Twins, and just the second as a regular out of the gate, seeing another leap forward would hardly be a miracle. That's where the crossroads of what to do next comes in.

Although there's still ample arms available on the market, Minnesota has been heavily connected to the trade market. With names like Chris Archer, Julio Teheran, and Jake Odorizzi among those thrown about, Kepler could be an enticing return. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will have to decide what they see going forward however. In any trade scenario, you're going to have to give to get, but is the breakout coming for Max and just how big will it be.

For me, I'm still a bigger believer of Kepler's long term future than I am of Eddie Rosario. Kepler's trajectory suggests one of growth, while Rosario's has some gaping holes that can continue to be exploited. If Minnesota is to deal Max for pitching, I'd hope the return is also substantial and that he's viewed as a cornerstone piece. Zack Granite and LaMonte Wade are both nice fallback options, but I'd hesitate to put them in the same realm as Kepler projects to be. With just over a month until meaningful games get started, I assume we'll have clarity which direction this narrative falls soon enough.

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As I have commented in other posts, It is harder to find starting pitching then to find outfielders.By the time the potential ace or aces are here we are at the end of this group of core players except for the ones we extend.We still need pitching, outfielders can be found for a reasonable price or maybe Wade can work out starting next year to be a full time player, do not view Granite as one.Rest are at least a couple of years away so let's find some pitching.

    • Platoon likes this
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Ted Schwerzler
Feb 12 2018 11:41 AM

 

As I have commented in other posts, It is harder to find starting pitching then to find outfielders.By the time the potential ace or aces are here we are at the end of this group of core players except for the ones we extend.We still need pitching, outfielders can be found for a reasonable price or maybe Wade can work out starting next year to be a full time player, do not view Granite as one.Rest are at least a couple of years away so let's find some pitching.

I'm really high on Kepler, but I don't disagree with you. The reality is that you have to give up talent to get it in return. I'd be far from shocked if Rooker is with the Twins by the end of this year, and while I see him more as a 1B, he could hold down LF and move Rosario over.

Kepler could be a victim of numbers. Right now, I would trade Eddie Rosario. His value is probably the highest ever (think Delmon Young when he was hot and then followed it up with.....). 

 

And you do have to look at the overall picture. Is Kepler the future Jacque Jones, a Michael Cuddyer (was he ever a consideration for first base) and will be breakout before you have to pay him big bucks, or do you have to ink him to a longterm contract.

 

If you say goodbye to Kepler, you are stuck with Granite and Grossman in the outfield this season. Lamont Wade is a prospect to watch. Edgar Corcino is areserve in waiting. Your best bets for the future are Kirilloff (who may be fast tracked) and the loser in the shortstop arena (would Royce Lewis be doomed to outfield play).

 

But like someone said, it is hard to get solid starting pitching, but an outfielder hitting .250 and 20+ dingers and player the corner can be a dime a dozen, or a band-aid,

 

Will Kepler be a superstar? In 2016 I saw a guy who was learning on the job, listening to coaches, working hard, and trying to adjust. In 2017, you saw that the league caught up to him. Can he adjust even further? How much is his talent natural and how much of it is techincal.

 

The question the front office ask, today, is: beyond getting an arm for the rotation, what is our potential roster for 2019 and 2020,

 

Would the 2018 team suffer without Kepler in the outfield (and Grossman/Granite there) and an arm better than Mejia, Gibson and whomever in the rotation?

 

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Ted Schwerzler
Feb 12 2018 02:05 PM

 

Kepler could be a victim of numbers. Right now, I would trade Eddie Rosario. His value is probably the highest ever (think Delmon Young when he was hot and then followed it up with.....). 

 

If you say goodbye to Kepler, you are stuck with Granite and Grossman in the outfield this season. Lamont Wade is a prospect to watch. Edgar Corcino is areserve in waiting. Your best bets for the future are Kirilloff (who may be fast tracked) and the loser in the shortstop arena (would Royce Lewis be doomed to outfield play).

I'd prefer to trade Rosario, but while his value may be high based upon numeric perception, you'd have to bee fooling a lot of front offices. I don't believe anyone oversees him being ripe for regression.

 

Brent Rooker is definitely a name that could be in consideration that you left out.

 

I think Kepler is a nice piece, and has a long and productive big league career ahead of him. I agree that it has to be a balancing act though.

Honestly, there's not a name that's been thrown around that I'd include Kepler in a deal for. I think he's on the verge of a big breakout offensively, and the fall-off from his defense in RF to Grossman or even Granite would be huge.

 

If the Rays offered Odorizzi for Kepler, I'd hang up the phone. Same with Julio in Atlanta.

 

If it was Archer, I'd listen, but I don't see him as the sure-fire ace most everyone else on this site seems to, so including Max would have to make the rest of the prospect give a lot lower.

 

I view him as a strikeout pitcher who throws a lot of innings, but didn't have a ton of success in a hitters ballpark in front of a good defense. A definite #2, but not a true ace.

I'd trade Kepler for Archer in a heartbeat. And I'm a big Kepler fan.
Count me as a fan and believer in Kepler and his potential. And other than a FA filler, nobody is ready for a couple years from the system to replace him. POTENTIALLY,I could see Granite as a leadoff candidate and Dozier slides down. But Granite is still unproven at this point.

While I'm not 100% sold on Archer, (I get IP and SO numbers), the overall ability and potential are there. He could be ready for that next step. But he's the only guy I'd even consider trading Kepler for at this point. Still rather offer up 4-5 quality prospects, maybe even Lewis. Not sure it would be enough, but I'd prefer to keep Kepler and the ML roster intact.
The sad part is without some SP, whether or not Kepler breaks out is a moot point to the teams success. As are Doziers HR's, Sanos leg, and Mauers last contract year. So I would likely trade Kepler for Archer. But if Molitor would then insist on putting R. Grossman in the OF 5 times a week, I would have to wonder if the net WAR would be worth it. He is practically Sano without the arm out there.
    • jud6312 likes this

Well, now they can't trade Kepler, since he's part of the "Nothing Falls But Raindrops" bobble-head promotion. :)

"For me, I'm still a bigger believer of Kepler's long term future than I am of Eddie Rosario."

 

Me too. I don't want Kepler to be traded and would go Rosario well before him.

 

I'm also of the belief that Archer is not ace material. Very good (I'd label him a #2) and would be best in Twins rotation for sure. But something just doesn't sit right with me about him. For one, he has the weirdest demeanor on the mound I've ever seen. I don't think I'd pay the price required for him in Falvine's shoes.

 

 

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Ted Schwerzler
Feb 13 2018 10:22 AM

 

"For me, I'm still a bigger believer of Kepler's long term future than I am of Eddie Rosario."

 

Me too. I don't want Kepler to be traded and would go Rosario well before him.

 

I'm also of the belief that Archer is not ace material. Very good (I'd label him a #2) and would be best in Twins rotation for sure. But something just doesn't sit right with me about him. For one, he has the weirdest demeanor on the mound I've ever seen. I don't think I'd pay the price required for him in Falvine's shoes.

I don't know that Rosario has much trade value, but I'd absolutely want to move him first.

 

I like Archer a lot, but think it'd take a king's ransom to acquire him.

 

I don't know that Rosario has much trade value, 

 

 

 

Your joking right?

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Ted Schwerzler
Feb 13 2018 11:25 AM

 

Your joking right?

*You're

 

And no...

 

The .836 OPS is flashy but the .290 AVG comes out of nowhere, and 27 homers is quite the shock for a guy that had 23 through his first 200+ MLB games. I have been high on Rosario since his early days as a prospect, and looked at his breakout potential prior to 2016. That said, teams willing to deal for him are going to point towards his 38% chase rate and 12% swinging strike percentage.

 

Those marks are considerably better than his career norms, but they still need to be improved upon and substantiated.

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Kelly Vance
Feb 13 2018 11:51 AM

My brother is against trading Max.  He touts his defense and says he doesn't have many years playing the game and is still learning. He thinks good defense is more important than pitching (yeah, I know, pitching is the most important part of defense). But he overrates Max I think. 

 

Thing is, Max is arguably only our third best outfielder, depending on whether you value Rosario's outfield assists, which were plenty in 2016 and not so much as teams stopped challenging him last year. Rosario is improving a lot. He made changes to his swing to stay in the strike zone and he is a clutch hitter.  Trading your third OFer who has trouble hitting lefties is a no brainer. For me, it isn't about preferring to trade Eddie.... If Tampa Bay wants Max and not Eddie, that is not an option. I'd rather keep Eddie. I see his hitting improvement as a sign of maybe more ability than Max. 

 

Prospects get traded for known commodities all the time and for a reason. Gonsalves and Romero might be ready, but they may also have a debut like Berios and get shelled their first time up in the Show. They may not get it together until 2019, if at all. Looking at this from a functionality standpoint and taking out the sentiment for Max, it looks like this to me. On a contending team, you only have one or two spots in the field that might be weaknesses and could be upgraded. A team on the bubble, like the Twins, may have 3 or 4.So if you can get a #1 or #2 pitcher, who will actually be an important cog, for a few prospects who may be a year or more away and an outfielder not named Buxton, you do it and don't look back. Because on the field, you add a proven SP that you don't have to worry about. That is 20 percent of your SP. 

 

Thing about trades, you gotta give up good players to get good players.