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Max Kepler For First Base 2020?




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blog-0551210001578086894.jpgMax Kepler was arguably the Minnesota Twins 2019 MVP last year (according to this particular website). He made huge offensive gains, provided incredible RF defense, and led the team with a 4.4 fWAR. Kepler's ability to step in for an injured Buxton in the second half saved their playoff hopes. Could Kepler's multi-positional flexibility come into play again in 2020? Surely it will, and I'd argue it could extend from the outfield to the infield.


First base is a long-lost friend for Kepler. It is the weakest position in the Twins depth chart as it currently stands today. Let's walk through the pros and cons of plugging in Kepler at first base.




Keep Kepler Healthy


Kepler was battling ailments all year last year, despite providing a huge lift when filling in for his injured comrade, Buxton. He had off-and-on knee issues in the beginning of the year and ended up missing the vast majority of September with a general shoulder injury (Rhomboid Muscle Strain). This injury affected his ability to swing a bat, and I’m sure it also impacted his ability to throw and field. We all saw the effects in the ALDS, as Kepler was hitless against the Yankees.


Mixing in Kepler as a 1B option would allow him to rest his knee and reduce throwing situations. Playing 1B isn’t necessarily equal to a day of Rocco’s “rest and recovery”, but it must be a breather from knee and shoulder issues that an outfielder will encounter throughout the season. Allowing Kepler to play a less demanding position will increase his impact on the team throughout the year. Imagine his 4.4 fWAR total if he had played throughout September.


There are effective OF additions that could boost the lineup.


I know the current focus is on a certain southern 34-year-old third baseman. Or maybe it’s the #3 - #5 spots in the opening day rotation. I think there are ways to add value to this Twins team through a few remaining free agent outfielders. Having Kepler play more 1B could create an opportunity to mix in another potent bat.


Marcell Ozuna is the top remaining OF addition on the market. He would definitely help the lineup – a 110 wRC+ and .337 wOBA are nothing to sneeze at. Ozuna has lost an edge defensively from his Marlins days, recording -5 Outs Above Average (OAA) in 2019. Maybe an argument could be made with switching him from LF to RF.


Another intriguing name is Yasiel Puig. Puig had a down year in 2019, with a1.2 fWAR and a wRC+ of 101 (career average of 124). He’s not as defensively challenged as Ozuna, but his offensive numbers were quite pedestrian in 2019 after a decent 2018. I’d argue that he can be acquired on a shrewd one-year bounce back contract, as his market has shriveled. Maybe I’m more interested in seeing the arms of both Rosario and Puig in the same outfield. And the tongue GIFs.


I’ll admit that I’m not too thrilled about either of those names above, but these are just two top-of-brain examples of how the front office can become more creative in adding value if Kepler’s playing time is reallocated to 1B. The trade market could offer more intriguing options.


Marwin Remains A “Multi-Positional Everyday Player”


Marwin Gonzalez is valuable because he can fill in across the diamond. He’s currently slated to receive the lion’s share of 1B starts as the roster appears in January. A career OPS+ of 101 and .418 SLG don’t necessarily scream everyday 1B. He also had a -2 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a -5.3 UZR/150 at 1B in 2019.

Rocco received some heat from the press last spring training when he deemed Gonzalez a “Multi-Positional Everyday Player”. It would be wise to allow him to plug holes as needed again in 2019, rather than limiting him at 1B.


The cool kid in LA is doing it.


Let's look at another LH OF, one who just happened to win the 2019 NL MVP. Since 2017, Cody Bellinger's MLB games by positions break down like this:


Outfield: 263

- RF: 125

- CF: 107

- LF: 40

First Base: 239


Bellinger is a superior player, but Kepler and Bellinger have a similar power/speed skill set that make the 1B/OF blend work. They are among an exclusive club of MLB players that do. Both the Los Angeles and Minnesota organizations place a premium on versatility, and these two players are major reasons for that.


The Los Angeles Dodgers have remained a powerhouse in the NL West for the better part of the decade due to their depth and flexibility. The Falvine regime has attempted the same by signing swiss-army-knife-man Marwin Gonzalez last year and increasing the positional flexibility of Luis Arraez, Ehire Adrianza, and Willians Astudillo. Injuries are inevitable, but versatility takes some of the sting out of a roster when they occur.


Imitating how the Los Angeles Dodgers utilize the reigning NL MVP isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is it?




Kepler has minimal MLB experience at 1B


Kepler has 1B experience. MLB experience? Some, but not so much. Emphasis on the not so much. Kepler has played 1B as a Minnesota Twin 3 times in his career. 0 of those appearances have been starts, for a total of 4.1 innings.


I’m hoping that his multiple years playing 1B in the minors would ingrain the fundamentals of the position in his brain. We’ve heard about his genetic athleticism for years. However, it’s hard to ignore that he hasn’t played 1B since a 0.1 inning cameo in 2018.


Kepler was among the best defenders in RF


RF is clearly Kepler’s best defensive home. Kepler was third in UZR/150 in RF, and his 7 Outs Above Average (OAA) were tied for 10th among MLB leaders. Including him in the 1B mix would force the team to hand more innings to an inferior OF defender.


This is probably my largest concern, because the Twins have an outstanding OF defense with a healthy Buxton and Kepler. Rosario is a defensive liability, but that liability is limited if Buxton can be shaded Rosario's way, as Kepler can track many balls down in RF.




I think there’s plenty of offseason left, and Donaldson is Plan A as of now. However, we’ve seen various Plan As fall through the cracks over the past few months. I think the thought of Kepler at 1B has to be entertained if an “impact” infielder can’t be acquired.


I would still slate Kepler in as the opening day RF, but I believe that giving him a sizeable share of 1B would allow him to receive more rest and durability, create and maintain a more versatile roster, and allow the front office to get creative.



Recommended Comments

If you want Kepler go to 1B, then trade for Betts. Set in RF and covered for CF. Graterol and Celestino? Lineup goes, Betts, Kepler, ... we win. Think positive in 2020.


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I debated putting in Betts in the "OF Additions" section where I mention better players can be had in trades.


Boston will understandably want the moon for 1 season of him. I think it begins with Lewis and/or Kirilloff. I think Mookie will want to test Free Agency in 2021, as well. 

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We need to make room for Kirilloff and Larnach in the outfield possibly by next year but then where will Sano eventually land? Too early for DH ... Fun to have options though

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Kepler did minimal play at first in the minors. Now the Twins talk like Kirilloff would be a first baseman in the future. Go figure. Of course, theTwins could still tie-up Buxton AND Rosario in longterm contracts, throwing the outfield prospect to the wind.


And Rosario. It seems the Twins would ratehr NOT pay Rosario $8 million plus this year and whatever more it would take to sign the guy longterm. Of course, I think they are seeing that other teams feel the same way, especially when they have to offer something aback to the Twins. Why do some players command BIG money,

and other ... just ... don't. 

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