Meet: Bobby Keppel

Your replacement man for Luis Ayala, who gets a trip to Rochester stamped DFA.

A few days after his 27th birthday, the Mets' 2000 first-round draft pick is getting his first opportunity with what is already his fifth organization.  Drafted right out of high school, the Mets liked Keppel for his penchant for strikeouts and his ability to keep the ball on the ground.  He reached New York's triple-A affiliate by his fifth season in the minors, losing strikeout numbers but doing a solid job of keeping the ball in the park.  Unfortunately for Keppel, the Mets weren't impressed enough to keep him on the 40-man roster and had to release him.  He wasn't reaching his potential ceiling, and with a group of young hurlers coming up through the system New York cut their losses and let him loose in May of 2005.

Over the following three seasons Keppel signed with three different franchises, garnering 38.1 major league innings with two of them.  Nobody must have been too impressed, because he was always granted free agency in the end.  And not always before the season itself reached conclusion.

In his last three appearances for the Red Wings, Keppel logged 21 innings, striking out 14, walking just one and surrendering seven runs.  On that positive note, Keppel has now compiled 996.2 minor league innings, with a 1.41 WHIP and a 4.53 ERA.  His strikeout rates are pedestrian (5.2 K/9), and even the home runs haven't been as top rate as once advertised (0.8 HR/9).

It's hard to speak for what he's thrown in Rochester this year, but over his brief time in the majors he offered a standard arsenal:  fastball, slider, curve, changeup.  Nothing stands out, with the fastball topping out around 90 and the curve being the slowest pitch in the mid to upper-70's.  In those 38 innings opponents have hit the ball hard (23.5% line drive rate), and the home runs rates have actually jumped to significantly above average...in the bad way.

But there have been some positive results from Rochester.  In fact, there's quite a discrepancy between the small-sample-size of his major league results, and how he's performed with the Red Wings.  His HR/9 is just 0.2 this season; over the last two months his ground-ball rates have been over 60%.  In spite of all this, his strikeouts continue to dwindle, managing to retire just 4.5/9 via the punch-out.

That's Keppel's profile.  But what are we to expect?  Worst-case scenario he's a AAAA pitcher, gets knocked around a little bit, and eventually gets replaced.  Best-case scenario, Keppel starts at the back end of the bullpen and induces a great deal of ground balls, minimizing extra base hits and limiting his damage; maybe by late July or August has earned enough respect to appear in a few more high-leverage situations.

If he's used right and doesn't shoot himself in the foot, Keppel could be useful.  That's the beauty (and curse) of a bullpen role--small sample sizes can either make you look brilliant or destroy your reputation.  Clearly Keppel doesn't look like much more than a replacement-level pitcher, but you never know.

Wish him luck.

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