Monday, January 7, 2019

Where they stand: Right field

Presumptive regular: Max Kepler

Others on 40 man: Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade, Zach Granite, Michael Hall

Nonroster notables: Alex Kiriloff

Why isn't he Christian Yelich?

That's the question the impatient part of me, the part that has been anticipating Kepler's stardom since the Twins signed him a decade ago out of Germany at the age of 16, keeps asking.

Kepler turns 26 next month. He's been an everyday player for the Twins since midseason 2016. And you really have to squint to see signs of growth in his stat line.

Glass half-full: His walk rate really picked up last season, and after a 2017 in which he was almost helpless against left-handed pitching, Kepler actually put up better numbers against southpaws in 2018.

Glass-half empty: His base numbers are consistently mediocre for a corner outfielder. Cobble together his best slash lines, and you get .243/.319/.425, which would be good for a catcher and passable for a good defensive center fielder but not for a right fielder.

Glass half-full: Kepler is a good defensive outfielder. Granted, he's not Mookie Betts in right, but the publicly available metrics really like him, not just in right but in center as well.

Glass half-empty: Paul Molitor was rather reluctant to play Kepler in center during Byron Buxton's prolonged absence, even though everything indicated that Kepler is better out there than Jake Cave.

Kepler is in roughly the same boat as Buxton and Miguel Sano. He's a high-level talent who has yet to consistently use that talent. Unlike Buxton and Sano, Kepler has managed to stay in the lineup. He just hasn't done much with the playing time.

It's time.

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