Yankees left field trade target is (predictably) raking in spring training with Twins

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox
Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox / Brace Hemmelgarn/GettyImages

And we're not talking about Joey Gallo (though he's also off to a hot start with the Minnesota Twins, and we wish him well in all future endeavors that have nothing to do with the Yankees).

Yes, it's Twins left-handed slugger Max Kepler, who was a popular Yankees trade target all November and December coming off a down year in Minnesota. The fit made sense, considering the team's lack of confidence in Aaron Hicks, as well as Kepler's not-so-distant powerful past, when he drilled 36 homers in a breakout 2019 campaign. The cost was likely not prohibitive ... which made it plainly obvious that Brian Cashman wasn't interested in testing those waters. No noise from the inside, lots of chatter from the outside, nothing got done.

Coming off a .666 OPS season, Kepler was far from a sure thing, and needed some unlocking to reach the heights he'd visited three years prior. Kepler's maximum exit velocity last year remained impressive (93rd percentile), but he didn't hit that threshold nearly often enough; his average exit velos were middling. He still pulled the ball a solid amount, but had watched that rate drop precipitously from 2019 (50.8%) to 2022 (41.7%). There still might've been a short-porch God in there somewhere, but it would've taken some digging, and after the Gallo experiment, did any Yankee fan really want to embark on another project?

When the new year arrived, it didn't seem worth it for the Yankees to send prospects/Clarke Schmidt/Gleyber Torres/anyone but IKF to Minnesota to try and figure out Kepler once and for all. It still doesn't. But as soon as the Yankees decided not to pursue him, there was no surer thing than the German outfielder coming out of the gate strong in spring.

And ... yup. He's 5-for-15 early in camp with a homer and some hard-hit stingers for outs against Orioles tippy-top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez. This particular first-pitch fastball left the stadium entirely.

Yankees Trade Target Max Kepler shining with Twins in spring training

That's nice. That's nice to see. Stock rising ... for Minnesota.

After all, the Twins have designs of contending in the AL Central this season. When the Yankees were connected to Kepler, conventional wisdom was that Carlos Correa was preparing to bolt for San Francisco; instead, after a saga unlike anything we've ever seen, he came back. Entering the season, there's no reason for Minnesota to close up shop unless they can fill another need with a big-leaguer. Add in the fact that both teams find each other's most tradeable assets completely unappealing (IKF, Josh Donaldson, Sonny Gray), and there's probably not a match here.

At this moment in time, it seems the Yankees might've stumbled on some untapped potential of their own. Both Willie Calhoun and Rafael Ortega have been among the spring's most impressive hitters. Even Hicks, the most reviled incumbent in New York this side of Mayor Eric Adams, has made a tangible change offensively, raising his hands to help him prepare for upper-echelon velocity. So far, so good; he's hitting .385 with a bomb through 13 at-bats, too.

Yankee fans will have to hope they've uncovered something in Hicks' profile, or maybe in Calhoun's or Ortega's. In the meantime, though, they probably shouldn't check any Twins box scores -- for more reason than one, considering Gallo's hitting over .400 in the early going, too.