Kepler’s rebound year continues with AL Player of the Week Award

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ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 21: Max Kepler #26 of the Minnesota Twins congratulated after being driven in on a double by Jorge Polanco #11 in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 21, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 21: Max Kepler #26 of the Minnesota Twins congratulated after being driven in on a double by Jorge Polanco #11 in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 21, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images) /
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The Minnesota Twins outfielder has proved to be worth the five-year extension he signed in spring training and has backed it up with the AL Player of the Week Award.

As the Minnesota Twins reported for spring training last February, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine were looking for a way to lock up their core players. Said strategy paid huge dividends for the duo in their previous stops in Cleveland and Texas respectively, but coming off a disappointing season, few expected outfielder Max Kepler to be on the receiving end of an extension.

Of course, the front office’s opinion is the one that matters and the Twins signed Kepler to a five-year, $35 million extension with a club option for 2024 on Feb. 14.

The move was a bit shocking as Kepler had struggled during the 2018 season. In a year where it seemed like all of the Twins’ young pieces were down, Kepler batted just .224 with 20 home runs and 58 RBI. Even though the overall numbers didn’t look good, there were several reasons why the Twins decided to bet long term on the 26-year old.

One of those reasons was Kepler’s improvement against left handed pitchers. After hitting .152/.213/.240 against lefties in 2017, Kepler’s line against lefties improved to .245/.323/.422 in 2018. That type of improvement made his 2018 struggle with righties easier to stomach.

Speaking those struggles, Kepler had a rough time hitting .216 against righties last year, but still was able to drive in 40 runs while slugging 15 of his 20 home runs. In addition, it seemed like Kepler had a fair amount of bad luck with a .236 average on balls in play (BABIP).

With Kepler solid defense in the outfield, the Twins were willing to take the risk that 2018 was a fluke and new manager Rocco Baldelli established him at the top of the lineup against right handed hitters. That move has been fruitful for the Twins as Kepler has slashed .288/.364/.595 with 12 HR and 28 RBI from the leadoff spot this season.

It hasn’t mattered where Kepler has hit in the lineup lately as last week he hit .571 with three home runs and 10 RBI. For his efforts, Kepler was named the American League Player of the Week and continues to get better with every at bat hitting .281 with 12 home runs and 33 RBI this season.

Next. The Minnesota Twins Are Not A Fluke. dark

Kepler’s breakout performance this season should help justify the financial investment the Twins made this past offseason. If he can keep it up, the Twins should have a steal of a contract on their hands while locking up a key piece of their future.

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