11:32am: Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli tells reporters that Kepler is only expected to be sidelined for the minimum 10 days (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park). Kepler might’ve avoided an IL stint entirely had the team been at full strength, but with several players also banged up, they needed to get a fresh body onto the roster.
11:15am: The Twins have placed right fielder Max Kepler on the 10-day injured list due to a left adductor strain and selected the contract of outfielder Brent Rooker from their alternate training site in St. Paul, per a team announcement. The club also added Willians Astudillo as the 29th man for today’s doubleheader and announced that righty Juan Minaya cleared waivers and has been outrighted back to St. Paul.
Minnesota only just got Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton back from the injured list, but they’ll now see a third key piece of their lineup sidelined for the foreseeable future. An expected timeline for Kepler’s return has not been provided.
Kepler, 27, has slashed .220/.322/.431 with seven homers, five doubles and three steals through 143 plate appearances to begin the 2020 season. He’s played strong defense along the way, checking with a +2.5 Ultimate Zone Rating and +1 Defensive Runs Saved in 259 innings in right. It’s a notable loss for the Twins, as Kepler is batting .246/.333/.502 dating back to Opening Day 2019 and is tied for fifth among all MLB right fielders with 15 Defensive Runs Saved over the past three seasons.
Rooker, 25, will get his first call to the Major League level. The No. 35 overall pick in the 2017 draft has been a steady source of power in the minors, slashing a combined .267/.357/.505 in 1110 professional plate appearances, including a .281/.398/.535 line in 274 Triple-A plate appearances a year ago.
There are questions about Rooker’s defense, as some feel he’s best suited in a first base/designated hitter role. The Twins, though, have played him in left field for much of his minor league career and seemingly hope that he can at least play passable defense there at the game’s top level. Defensive concerns notwithstanding, Rooker is considered one of the Twins’ better prospects, ranking 12th at MLB.com, 14th at Baseball America and 17th at FanGraphs due to his largely to his plus raw power and his consistently strong performances at each minor league stop.
With Kepler sidelined, the Twins can rotate Rooker, Eddie Rosario and Jake Cave through the corners. On the surface, adding Rooker’s right-handed bat would seemingly be a plus for a Twins club that has unexpectedly floundered against left-handed pitching in 2020, but Rooker has actually handled righties better than lefties over the past couple of minor league seasons.
Turning to Minaya, he had his contract selected last week but didn’t make it into a game before being designated for assignment. The 29-year-old has spent the past four seasons with the division-rival White Sox, where he’s pitched to a combined 3.93 ERA with 10.0 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9 and a 36.8 percent grounder rate in 128 1/3 frames.