Thursday, April 12, 2018

Contemplating Max Kepler

Max Kepler's big day Wednesday -- two homers, including the walk-off in the ninth inning -- gave him a slash line on the young season of .281/.395/.625.

Even before Wednesday's long ball exploits, when his slash numbers looked more like 2017's, Kepler simply looked like a better, more advanced hitter this spring than in seasons past. This is certainly plausible; he turned 25 just before spring training opened, and he didn't face advanced competition before turning pro and coming to the States at age 16.

But it's worth noting that two weeks into the season Paul Molitor has allowed him to step to the plate just five times against left-handed pitching. When the Twins face a southpaw -- as, for example, Dallas Keuchel of Houston on Tuesday -- Molitor just happens to decide to get Robbie Grossman and Ryan LeMarre some playing time.

I can't argue with that. The Twins set up their bench to give them platoon options for the array of left-handed bats among their regulars, and Kepler in 2017 was emphatically troubled by left-handed pitching.

I'm sure Molitor would insist if asked that he's not platooning Kepler. And to the extent that Molitor is managing not only for 2018 but beyond, Kepler shouldn't be platooned. There is star potential in him, and he needs at-bats against lefties to develop that potential.

Therein lies the conundrum for the manager, balancing the urgency of winning every possible game with the postseason as the goal with the need to develop the talent. Right now, it appears Molitor is giving the win-now more weight on that scale.

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