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Who passes, and Who fails?
Here is the next installment in our series grading the individual performances of the key members of the 2019 Twins. Each player will receive a classic grade on the scale of A through F, based on their hitting, fielding, and whatever else the author wants to consider. We’ve previously looked at C.J. Cron here and Miguel Sano here. The next man on the list more than earned his off season extension, as Max Kepler stepped up for the Twins in a big way.
While Kepler is ostensibly the right fielder for the Twins, folks have been saying for years that he would be an above-average center fielder if he played for almost any other team. While a healthy Byron Buxton rightfully pushes Kepler to a corner, Buxton’s extended injuries meant that the Twins put the young German in center field sixty times this season, and in right field 84 times.
Even playing in two positions, Kepler was put up the best fielding percentage of all MLB outfielders, at a perfect 1.000, and landed fourth on the MLB leaderboards for Range Factor per nine innings as a right fielder. Kepler even won AL Player of the week honors on May 26th. He racked up a total of 4.0 WAR in 2019, and even considering his excellent defense, most of that value came via Kepler’s bat.
In his age-26 season, the young outfielder saw respectable increases in all categories of the traditional triple slash. He ended the season at .252/.336/.529 with 36 bombas. More importantly, he has finally established himself as a complete hitter, limiting platoon splits to an acceptable level. While lefties were Kepler’s weakness early in his career, he feasted on southpaws this season, hitting .293/.356/.524 when facing a same-handed pitcher.
The Twins invested big money into Max Kepler last offseason, and in 2019 he proved he deserved it. Not only did he have a career year in the bomba count (as many guys did,) Kepler also raised his batting average and on base percentage around 20 points above his career norms. He closed up some of the major holes that made people doubt his game, and he provided the Twins with 1111 innings of perfect defensive baseball. At just 26 years old, he is only entering his prime.
Overall Grade: A