Max Kepler, the rookie from Berlin, has been one of the bright spots for the Twins in 2016. We ranked him as our 3rd best prospect going into this year.
In April he didn't do much, and was sent down to AAA on April 24th. On June 1st, Miguel Sano was injured and Max was called up to replace him. During the month of June, Kepler started to figure some things out at the plate. He hit his first homer, and batted .255/.324/.447.
Those stats are pretty good, but in the month of July (+ change), Kepler caught on fire. Here's some numbers to gawk at:
The power from Kepler was unexpected at this early stage of his career. In 508 minor league appearances in 2015, he hit just 9 homers (56.4 PA/HR). He did that and then some in less than a fourth of the chances in July.
Since that terrific series in Cleveland, the numbers have plummeted, though. (Stats through 9/22)
This stretch includes a strikeout percentage of 22.4. That's an 8 point jump from 14% in July. It's a rather dramatic drop off, nearly cutting his OPS in half. You'll notice the lack of HR, contributing to the low SLG%, and an ISO of just 52. I have a few theories about why he's slumping so much:
- Pitchers adjusted to him. Max appears to struggle with pitches up and in, and also left handed pitchers. I don't have hard numbers here (I don't want to pay for access to stats) but maybe he's seeing more of those.
- He’s trying too hard. His stats in July were unsustainable and as he tried to keep the hot streak going he started to lose focus and timing.
- There’s some undisclosed injury going on. The sudden drop off, and this is the Twins, makes me wonder. That said, this is less likely than the first two.
I’m by no means a hitting coach, and I’m not sure what to look for in the analytics to diagnose the problem, so I don’t have much to go on. The true reason is probably some combination of these theories. Like I said before the break, baseball is a season of peaks and valleys, Max is in a valley. So, is it time to press the "RUINED" button on Kepler? Not at all. In fact, he is one of the reasons why I’m still excited for the Twins future. This stuff happens with rookies quite often.
He isn't broken, and since he's still just 23 has plenty of room to develop more. His triple slash sits at .232/.307/.422, and while it isn't as impressive as the .907 OPS he was sporting at the end of his hot streak, it isn't terrible. I suspect Kepler may start next year in Rochester, though, unless he has a great spring training.
Hopefully, he can finish the last week of 2016 strong.