We are still obsessed with our pre-season draft prep, with terms like sleepers, busts, and breakouts – and rightfully so. We are still in early April with just one week in the books, and I think the search for breakouts is just as important now as it was when we drafted.
There were a few lonely voices singing Max Kepler’s praises this offseason. I was about two years too early and had gotten out of the Uber, if you will, last year. But, I’m picking him up or trading for him wherever I can in 2019.
Kepler showed signs of maturity in his plate discipline during 2018. This is the first thing I look for when projecting a player’s ceiling. Kepler walked at an 11.6% clip last year, up 3% form 2017, and struck out just 15.7% of the time. Even if those figures look more like 10.5% BB and 18% K, 2019 will continue to provide better results. Unbelievably, Kepler had just a .224 BABIP in 2018. This number should at least be in the .270s which puts his batting average floor at .250 along with a .330 OBP with likely 20 HR and about 6 steals.
Those numbers aren’t eye-catching. However, Kepler is leading off in an above average offense and playing in a division that does not have strong pitching outside of Cleveland. Plate discipline certainly will lead to more opportunities to score runs at the top of the order, but the change from 2018 that has me most excited has to do with his FB%. Kepler traded a 5% GB decrease for an increase in fly balls by nearly 7% last year. He had an unlucky 9.9% HR/FB rate that suppressed his power numbers. Everything else largely stayed the same except for an encouraging improvement in hard hit percentage. Continuing to hit the ball hard in the air, cutting down on strikeouts, continuing to take walks, and experiencing some positive BABIP regression could put together a monster year for Kepler as a number 3 OF in your lineup.
I don’t have too much concern for platoon splits either. Kepler actually fared better against lefties in 2018, and there aren’t any right-handed OF options for the Twins that will push him for playing time. By the way, after an 0-8 start to 2019 against tough Indians Starters:
Max Kepler through 9/26
- 3 BB
- 6 Ks
- 3 HR
- 6 RBI
- 5 Runs
Here are some hitters I would drop for Kepler in the right league context:
- Brandon Nimmo
- Jesse Winker
- Joc Pederson
- Brett Gardner
- Jake Bauers
- Randall Grichuk
- Adam Eaton
If you are in a 3 OF category league, you might still have a shot at snagging the German standout. The rest of you may have to pay slightly more, but considering the fact Kepler is available in approximately 45% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, you could get OF3 production for the price of a waiver claim. That’s a small price to pay, and one you’ll regret not ponying up for when September rolls around.
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