From 2015-2020, Byron Buxton was seemingly on the shelf as much as on the green grass. For long stretches, Max Kepler was his CF replacement. Buxton continued to miss large swaths of time in 2021-2022, but by then the son of German ballet dancers was utilized more sparingly in the diamond’s center—presumably to keep his own IL stints from piling up. Nick Gordon & Gilberto Celestino filled in for Buck more often than not.
All in all, Max has started 127 games in CF over his career—but only 3 in ‘22 and none thus far in ‘23. Were he providing substantial offensive value to the club, I wouldn’t be jump-starting this conversation—but that hasn’t been the case for some time (OPS+ hovering around league-average since 2019). With the Twins struggling to score runs, sending Matt Wallner back to St. Paul after an 8-for-8 on-base streak doesn’t feel right. Plus, Trevor Larnach will likely recover from a pneumonia-based IL stint soon.
If the plan is to continue DH-ing Buxton for the foreseeable future and Gordon is still a ways from returning from the IL, then having Kepler give Michael A. Taylor a breather (or platoon) from time-to-time kills two birds with one stone:
Solved Problem #1: Outfielders playing outfield
Last Sunday, Willi Castro—he of 14 career CF starts—drew the first inning nod in a simple day off for Taylor. By the end of the afternoon he had committed one egregious error and couldn’t chase down a fly that a natural OF-er may have loped under. Castro is a fine utility infielder glove-wise (and maybe in LF if absolutely needed), but he shouldn’t be in center for a club that fancies itself competitive. Could Kepler provide this service once or twice—at most—a week instead, seeing as how Kep’s glove is now more valuable than his bat?
Solved Problem #2: Best bats retained
To state the obvious, the Twins are not an offensive juggernaut. Any pop in the lineup is coveted. If Kepler backs up Taylor until Gordon’s return, this renders Castro—and his career .682 OPS—expendable, with Royce Lewis, Kyle Farmer, & Donovan Solano more than capable of covering IF duties in favor of a Wallner, Larnach, or Kyle Garlick return.
Maybe the Twins have promised Kepler he won’t play CF anymore—in which case I’d question the judgement of The Falvine (TM). Maybe Kepler refuses to play the keystone OF position—in which case I’d question his value to the roster.
If neither are true, then perhaps it is time to re-introduce Max to the widest ballpark swath in order to maximize this roster’s potential.
Should Max Kepler be playing at least some CF?
This poll is closed
Yep—1 or 2 times a week as/if needed
Nope—keep him under the limestone in RF
Just put Buxton back in CF and invoke all relevant deities to protect him