The Twins are nearing the completion of a new contract with right fielder Max Kepler, Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. If and when the deal is completed, it’d be the second long-term deal hammered out by the Twins this week, as the team is also reported to be finalizing a five-year pact with shortstop Jorge Polanco. The Twins, notably, have scheduled a press conference for 10am tomorrow morning. Kepler is represented by Sosnick, Cobbe & Karon.
Kepler has already agreed to a $3.125MM deal for the 2019 season as a Super Two player, though a new long-term arrangement could potentially supersede that prior agreement. The German-born 26-year-old has spent the past three seasons as Minnesota’s primary right fielder, batting a combined .233/.314/.418 (96 OPS+) with 56 homers, 82 doubles, eight triples and 16 steals in 1626 plate appearances. He’s proven himself to be a strong defender in that time (+15 Defensive Runs Saved, +11 Ultimate Zone Rating, +32 Outs Above Average) and has drawn favorable reviews for his baserunning as well, even if his stolen-base totals are lacking (+8.1 BsR, per Fangraphs).
While Kepler’s overall production in his three years as an MLB regular doesn’t immediately stand out, there’s reason to believe that he could yet deliver a more impressive level of offensive output. For the first few seasons of his career, Kepler struggled mightily against left-handed pitching but turned in strong output against righties. From 2016-17, he hit .262/.336/.477 when holding the platoon advantage but mustered just a .177/.243/.280 slash against left-handers. This past season, though, Kepler delivered a much-improved .245/.323/.422 line against lefties and dramatically improved his strikeout and walk rates against them. Unfortunately, he saw his average on balls in play against right-handers crater, leading to diminished overall results.