Batter’s Box: Homer to the Max
“Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins), that’s the man whose name you’d love to touch, but you musn’t touch! His name sounds good in your ear, but when you say it, you mustn’t fear! ‘Cause his name can be said, by anyone!”
After a productive night at the plate where he went 2-4 with 2 runs, a HR, a double, and an RBI, it’s time to pay more attention to the Twins’ leadoff man. His home run on Sunday was his seventh of the season and fourth in three days. The fantasy community has been holdings its breath for some time now, waiting for the moment that Kepler puts it all together and becomes a legitimate fantasy commodity. The key to the breakout for Kepler isn’t in his batted-ball or Statcast data, as it is for many other players. Instead it’s something much more basic — he needs to learn to hit lefties. He has a career .201/.271/.333 line against them and a 60 wRC+ in 408 plate appearances, which simply won’t cut it. I wish I could say that the power surge we are seeing is a sign of a reversal of his past trends … but it isn’t. He’s 3-17 against lefties in 2019, though he does have a single home run. Even if Kepler isn’t able to turn the corner on lefties, it doesn’t appear that the Twins have any real desire to platoon his bat at this point. He may drop to the bottom of the order (as he did about a week ago when he hit eighth against Wade Miley), but if he keeps playing well, they’ll keep giving him an opportunity to get better. It should be noted that there aren’t very many lefties good enough to hide Kepler from in his own division, with just two (Matt Boyd and Carlos Rodon) who have any track record at all of big league success. He was barely a top-200 pick coming into the season, and if the power trends can keep up, he could approach 30 home runs with five to seven stolen bases and a .260/.335/.460 line — that’s pushing to be a top-30 outfielder. Even if he can’t get the hang of lefties, he should stay as a top-40 to -50 outfielder throughout the season.
Hunter Pence (OF, Texas Rangers) — 3-5, 3 R, HR, 2B, 4 RBI. I’ve been watching this guys for years, and his stance never seems to appear comfortable (or normal). He continues to be a part-time player (though not part of a platoon) in the Rangers outfield, and when he gets in the lineup, it’s usually in the heart of the order. That’s valuable for AL-only and DFS players, especially considering the .374 wOBA he’s put up in his 16 starts.
Melky Cabrera (OF, Pittsburgh Pirates) — 4-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 2B, 3 RBI. I really thought the playing time would dry up by now considering the return of Gregory Polanco, but injuries to random parts of the Pirates roster will keep giving Melky a chance to play. Since April 19, he’s been the primary No. 2 hitter for the Pirates, and those in leagues with five outfield starters should consider adding him to fill their last outfield spot, especially if, like the Pirates, they need to fill in for injured starters. He’s most valuable in points and batting average formats (as batting average is his greatest fantasy strength), but he’s still useful in OBP.
Robinson Chirinos (C, Houston Astros) — 1-2, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB. His .151 xAVG (bottom 1% of league) and .261 xSLG (bottom 5% of league) are still really troubling. I’m not saying you have to get rid of him right now, but in 10- to 12-team formats with just one catcher, you’ll want to be ready to cut bait and run when the slump comes. And trust me, it’s coming.
Ozzie Albies (2B, Atlanta Braves) — 3-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI. I haven’t really talked about him much yet (mostly because there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said), but the two-home run outing does help confirm the idea that there is some power in this bat — though you probably won’t be 100% convinced that he can hit for power until you see if for more than one to two months (which was just about all he could muster last season).
Eduardo Escobar (3B/SS, Arizona Diamondbacks) — 2-6, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB. He has been absolute fire for his past eight games, with five multi-hit efforts, four home runs, and nine RBI during this hot streak. I think he can put up numbers similar to last season, with roughly 20 home runs, a strong batting average, a useful OBP, and plenty of counting stats from the 2-hole in the lineup. That’s useful in 12-team leagues, particularly those with middle infield and corner infield spots. His dual eligibility also helps in those formats.
Mike Moustakas (2B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers) — 2-3, R, HR, 2 RBI. After getting five days of rest because of an injury, Moustakas came back seemingly at 100% with three straight multihit games. He’s been crushing the ball all month and rewarding those who saw the value in taking him at or near his ADP (137.2 per FantasyPros). Thirty home runs almost seems like a lock, especially when you consider that he has 66 over the past two seasons.
Eric Sogard (2B, Toronto Blue Jays) — 3-6, R, HR, 2B, RBI. No, you don’t need to add him in 10- or 12-teamers, but a .415/.478/.732 start in 10 games as the leadoff man against righties is worth noticing. It’s almost certainly just a hot-streak, but he is a nice 15-team or DFS play when he’s in the lineup (which will be somewhat frequently against right-handed pitchers). He’ll turn back into a pumpkin eventually, though, so feel free to drop him when that happens.
(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)