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The Situation: Last year the Twins were the upstart team of the AL. This year, not so much. With Danny Santana heading to the disabled list, Minnesota will call on Kepler to (hopefully) provide some offensive punch.

Background: The Twins signed Kepler out of Germany (for $800,000) as a player who was equal parts raw goo and toolsy prospect six years ago, hoping that someday that goo would translate into something solid. For the first few years, that seemed very unlikely while he was being derailed by injuries, but something clicked in 2013, and he’s shown marked improvement every year since. It really came together last year, as he hit .318/410/.520 in Double-A Chattanooga, earning a trip to the Futures Game and a (very) small cup of coffee at the end of the 2015 major-league season.

Scouting Report: Kepler is an excellent athlete—he was a fantastic tennis and soccer player as a child—and that athleticism shows in his swing. He stays in the zone with plus bat speed and quick wrists, and he will hit the ball with authority to any part of the field. His approach was once a weakness, but it’s now a strength, as he recognizes pitches, swings at quality strikes, and rarely beats himself by swinging at pitches outside of the zone. He’s also that rare projected power hitter who doesn’t strike out much, thanks in large part to superb hand-eye coordination.

Now, about that projected pop. Kepler has the strength to suggest above-average to plus power, but that hasn’t shown up in big-league games yet. He has hit plenty of doubles, and if he adds just a little more loft to his swing, those doubles can become bombs. He’s not a dink-and-dunk hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but a little more power production wouldn’t hurt anybody.

It looked like Kepler was going to be a first baseman, but he’s worked hard on his defense and now looks like he can be a regular in the outfield. He makes the most of his average speed, and he takes efficient routes. The concern is the arm; it’s only average in strength, and he’s had injury issues there. That could make the cold corner his long-term position, but for now, at least, there’s reason to believe he can play everyday in an outfield corner.

Immediate Big-League Future: With a quality approach and a swing that is tailor-made to hit line drives, Kepler is a guy who should be able to make some impact immediately at the big league level, assuming he keeps the same quality approach. The long-term future is just as promising, and if that projected power does come, it won’t matter as much if he’s playing first base. If it doesn’t, he’s still going to be a regular, just a less valuable one. —Christopher Crawford

Fantasy Impact: When a team calls upon one of it’s top prospects, particularly a prospect who was an MVP at a minor league level the previous season—as Kepler was in the Southern League in 2015—it usually causes quite a stir within the team’s fan base and also in the fantasy community. However, sometimes a prospect’s call to the majors is also accompanied by less than inspiring quotes from the manager regarding playing time, such as this one from Twins skipper Paul Molitor: "We're going to try to get an opportunity to get a little bit of playing time for him, but in reality, he'll potentially be a defensive replacement." It’s entirely possible that Molitor might be seeking to temper expectations for one of the Twins top prospects, but with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano locked into everyday roles in center field and right field respectively, and Joe Mauer and Byung-ho Park slated for full-time duty between first base and designated hitter, there indeed may not be a lot of room at the moment for Kepler, who turned 23 in February.

Kepler played 37 games at first base, 31 in right field, 19 in center field, and appeared in 15 contests in left field at Double-A Chattanooga while posting a palatable .322/.416/.531 line with 18 stolen bases in 2015. While he reportedly was the backup plan for the Twins in center field this spring had Byron Buxton struggled, he figures to appear mostly in the outfield corners until INF/OF Danny Santana returns from his strained right hamstring. Taking playing time away from starting left fielder Eddie Rosario, who hit for a .267 AVG (.252 tAV) in his age-23 season in 2015, seems like Kepler’s clearest path for extended playing time long-term, but it is probably unlikely that the Twins would pull the plug on Rosario this early in the season. If Rosario continues his sub-.300 OBP act in 2016, it could open the door for regular playing time sooner rather than later for Kepler this season.

Kepler only has 489 plate appearances above the High-A level, and it’s likely that he’ll return to Triple-A Rochester after Santana returns from the disabled list, diminishing his value for 2016 in standard mixed leagues initially and making a FAAB bid in the $10 (out of a $100 budget) neighborhood appropriate. Deeper mixed leagues and AL-only league owners should scoop Kepler up if he’s not already owned with the chance that he could displace Rosario (or Buxton if things go really south) at some point this season, but expectations likely should be subdued for what is plausibly his first of multiple looks the Twins intend to give him this season at the major league level. If Kepler were to lock down a starting role at some point in 2016, his blend of power, speed, and the ability to hit for average would make him one of the American League’s more enticing fantasy options among rookies, and while he’ll likely need further seasoning at the Triple-A level before the Twins hand over the keys to a starting job, receiving 300 or more plate appearances in 2016 is certainly not out of the question. —J.J. Jansons

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vansloot
4/11
I think Kepler would be a better option for RF than Sano, but then where do you put Sano? 3B? But then where does Plouffe go? It's almost like they should trade Plouffe...