Max Kepler Should Be the Oddfielder Left Out When Buxton Returns
The Minnesota Twins are on a roll, winning again on Wednesday, their fourth-in-a-row and sixth victory in their last seven games. At 20-29, there’s still a very steep hill for this team to climb back into the playoff race but watching them play has been much more enjoyable of late. In a 162-game season, any streak of decent baseball is a breath of fresh air when everything you’ve watched so far in 2021 has made you want to pull your eyeballs out.
And the recent surge has been lead by an unexpected cast of characters. Youngsters who we didn’t expect to contribute in any real way this season have provided the exact jolt fans have been waiting for. Sure, guys like Rob Refsnyder is certainly part of the offensive turnaround and a warming Miguel Sano certainly helps too. But, none of it seems possible without the new guys, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach.
In the last seven days, Minnesota has played eight games. Kirilloff is hitting .333 (he’s played five of the eight) with four RBI and two doubles. Larnach, much like Alex did early, has struggled in the batting average category (currently hitting .200 on the season), but he’s tied for the most homeruns of any Twin during their hot streak in the last week (2) and accounts for some big hits in big spots. And when Trevor connects… the ball goes hard.
Alex Kirilloff has a 14.5% Barrel per PA. The MLB qualified leader is Shohei Ohtani at 14.3%— Ted (@tlschwerz) May 25, 2021
He also has a 50% hard hit rate while fellow rookie Trevor Larnach is at 43.8%. If they qualified, that’d be 2nd and 8th in MLB.#MNTwins prospects showing up nicely.
Trevor Larnach has 11 hits so far in his MLB career.— Matthew Taylor (@MatthewTaylorMN) May 26, 2021
The exit velos on those 11 hits:
461 FEET 112 MPH off the bat of Trevor Larnach! pic.twitter.com/yzKCQswRvg— Sequence (@SequenceJM) May 25, 2021
When Buxton returns
Byron Buxton isn’t expected to return to the Minnesota Twins lineup for another two weeks. He had a minor setback during the recovery from his hip injury and the date of his return has been pushed back to June 8 (according to Patrick Reusse – Star Tribune). So, Baldelli and the front office have some time to figure this thing out.
But as long as everyone gets/stays healthy, there will eventually be too many starting outfielders to fit into the Twins grass. Let’s leave Garlick and Refsnyder out of this conversation because those two are utility backups and that’s how they should be treated.
But all of Buxton, Kepler, Kirilloff and Larnach need everyday at-bats because [a] they’re getting paid for them (Kepler and Buxton) or [b] they need to develop as professional baseball players (Larnach and Kirilloff). Unfortunately, only three guys can play in the outfield at a time.
Want more bodies for your already too crowded scenario? Luis Arraez is expected to return from his IL stint around the same time Buxton does. With Polanco, Donaldson and Simmons all healthy in the infield, Arraez could be part of the group looking for innings in the outfield as well.
So where does this leave us?
Look, Max Kepler isn’t part of the long term plans for the Minnesota Twins. Their corner outfielders of the future are Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach. With the trade deadline looming, Kepler’s days in a Twins uniform could be numbered.
Even if Larnach isn’t hitting for the average Falvine would like to see, he has the upside that Max doesn’t. Kepler’s having a down year but his numbers don’t look that much different than the rest of his career. His batting average has dropped .20 points but his 2021 OPS (.745) is nearly identical to his career mark (.762) and his OPS+ for this year is actually 10 points higher (111) than what he’s shown through his career (104)..
In other words, we know what Max is. He’s Trevor Bauer’s father. Beyond that, he hits .240 with an OPS that flirts with .800 during his good years. Even with his batting average subdued at .200, Larnach is repping a .702 OPS. Now, there’s more to a baseball player than hitting but Max Kepler isn’t a guy this roster can’t afford to lose.
Still, he’s a guy who should have some worth on the trade market.
OPS by #MNTwins hitters since the start of last season (minimum 150 PA):— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) May 23, 2021
.984 — Byron Buxton
.943 — Nelson Cruz
.811 — Josh Donaldson
.765 — Miguel Sanó
.748 — Max Kepler
*.724 — LEAGUE AVERAGE*
.723 — Luis Arraez
.680 — Andrelton Simmons
.663 — Jorge Polanco
.641 — Mitch Garver
The Sano option
The other option for the Minnesota Twins, if they don’t want to send Trevor Larnach back down to the minors, is to trade Miguel Sano during his current hot streak. Sano has numbers nearly identical to Kepler’s even as he’s picked up his game in May, but I have to believe there’s a team out there who will see his upside as higher than Kepler’s.
If Falvine would rather trade Sano, Kirilloff has looked really good defensively at first base too. Personally, I like Sano’s upside more than Kepler’s and I’ll take his rollercoaster ride of hopes and dreams over what we know we have in Max. But again, I’m not the one combing through trade offers.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan