Twins Think Ban on Shifts Can Fix Max Kepler at the Plate
Trade rumors have been swirling around Max Kepler for months, if not years. The Minnesota Twins’ German right fielder never reached his potential and now at age 30, the arrivals of Joey Gallo and Michael A. Taylor plus a plethora of young corner outfielders have made him expendable.
But manager Rocco Baldelli isn’t wishing Kepler away just yet. In fact, he’s optimistic that one major rule change for this season could unlock more of what Max Kepler was supposed to be as a Major League hitter.
Could Shift Ban Fix Max Kepler?
Defenses in the MLB are not allowed to shift in 2023. That’s right, 2nd basemen have to stay at 2nd base, shortstops at shortstop, left fielders in left field, etc. And Rocco believes this rule change could have a dramatic impact on Kepler, specifically.
Because the shift was in Max’s head. At least, that’s what he told the Golden Dunkers (according to Darren Wolfson) when he spoke to them at a breakfast last week (25:00 mark – transcribed below).
“Rocco Baldelli spoke to the Dunker’s Club, last Thursday morning. He brought it up, that the shift, really the last couple years, has gotten into Max Kepler’s head. That it has played mind games with him. So there’s a thought that now with the rule change that that could really aid him more so than any other player.”Darren Wolfson – Mackey & Judd (SKOR North)
Kepler Failed to Reach Potential
Max Kepler was once seen as one of the brightest young players in the Minnesota Twins organization. Unfortunately, he peaked in 2019 as a member of the “Bomba Squad”, back when the Twins were setting home run records with juiced baseballs.
That season, Kepler hit .252 and slugged an absurd .519. His .855 OPS looked like that of a budding star who was just starting to figure things out. Instead, it now looks like an outlier, sitting over .100 points higher than his current career OPS of .744. In 2022, his numbers hit rock bottom. His .348 slugging percentage, .666 OPS and 93 OPS+ were all career lows.
Trade Interest Still Out There
Still, Max Kepler hold positive trade value. He’s one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball and his hitting has yet to bottom out to the point where teams are afraid to put him in the lineup on a regular basis.
Kepler’s camp has told Wolfson that they expect him to be moved eventually and there are plenty of teams interested, including Texas, Colorado, Tampa Bay, the Yankees and others.
“Going back to early November, some people close to Max have been anticipating a trade. You look at teams like Texas, Colorado, Tampa, the Yankees, probably some others. Miami has had some interest in Kepler. So the trade interest is out there.”Darren Wolfson – Mackey & Judd (SKOR North)
And even if the Twins are quietly excited about Kepler hitting against non-shifted defenses, we know how much Derek Falvey likes to make late tweaks to the roster.
Falvey Likes Splashing in Spring
Believe it or not, Spring Trainings across Major League Baseball are just a couple of weeks away from starting up. For the Minnesota Twins, that usually means an increase in roster manipulation. Derek Falvey has never been shy about making splashy moves just before the season gets started.
In February 2020, just before Spring Training began, the Twins traded Brusdar Graterol for Kenta Maeda. In 2022, after the lockout stalled the offseason and forced an expedited spring, Minnesota added Carlos Correa on March 19, Sonny Gray on March 13, Chris Archer on March 28 and Chris Paddack on April 7. Opening Day was April 8.
Whether it involves Max Kepler or not, I’d be shocked if the Minnesota Twins stand pat on their roster over the next month, as we ramp up to the 2023 season.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan