2019 Fantasy Baseball: You Want To Draft This Round 15+ Slugger
There was some optimism for Max Kepler having a breakout the last couple of seasons and those lofty expectations weren't met. Kepler has shown improvement in the surface stats the previous two seasons, mainly producing similar stats.
Digging deeper, there were some good gains, and there's still hope for a Kepler breakout. The Twins are banking on it, signing Kepler to a five-year, $35 million deal and a club option for $10 million.
The Twins outfielder was a good prospect and has been solid in the majors, but yet to have that big season. Kepler started the 2016 season at Triple-A and came up to the Twins and played 113 games. He had a slash line of .235/.309/.424 with 52 runs, 17 home runs, 63 RBIs and six stolen bases. The next season he was at .243/.312 .425 with 67 runs, 19 home runs, 69 RBIs and six stolen bases in 511 at-bats.
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Last season, Kepler batted .224 with a .319 on-base percentage and .408 slugging percentage with 80 runs, 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and four stolen bases. As a result. Kepler is exceptionally cheap in drafts. He has an ADP of 261.93 as the 62nd outfielder and can exceed that price.
While the surface numbers didn't jump, a lot of the underlying numbers show improvement. Kepler had a strikeout rate over 20 percent in his first two seasons and cut it to 15.7 percent in 2018. He increased his walk rate of 3.3 percent to 11.6 percent.
Kepler also hit a lot more fly balls, going from a 39.5 percent fly ball rate in 2017 to 46.2 percent last season. He also had the best hard-hit rate of his career at 37.1 percent. The HR/FB rate was a career low at 9.9 percent, while his career average is 11.8 percent.
The approach at the plate improved for Kepler, too. He became more patient and swung at more strikes. He increased his fly ball distance by 11 feet. Kepler, who just turned 26, had a higher OPS against left-handers (.745) than right-handers (.720). In 147 at-bats against southpaws, he batted .245 with five home runs and 18 RBIs. He had a 39.8 percent hard-hit rate against left-handers. Kepler didn't fare as well against right-handers with a .219 BABIP, yet had a 13.5 percent strikeout rate, 12.6 percent walk rate and 36.2 percent hard-hit rate.
All of these positive trends occurred, yet Kepler had a career-low .727 OPS. While Kepler had a low .236 BABIP, part of it is due to the high fly ball rate and low line drive rate of 15.9 percent. Kepler might not be much better than a .250 hitter.
Kepler should hit somewhere in the top five of the Twins lineup, which has the potential to be excellent with the addition of Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron and the potential improvement from Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.
Kepler made strides last season, but they are hidden. The Twins showed their faith in Kepler by extending him before the surface stats catch up to the hidden numbers. Kepler is entering his power peak phase, and he will come cheap.
When you get to the late rounds, draft Kepler and enjoy 30 home runs.
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