Twins assign Kepler to minors, release Sweeney

PORT CHARLOTTE, FLa. -- Ryan Sweeney just wanted a chance. Max Kepler hopes he gets another.The Twins jettisoned two more outfielders Friday to trim their spring training roster to 35, sending Kepler, the prospect, to the minors while releasing S...

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Minnesota Twins center fielder Max Kepler strokes a base hit against the St. Louis Cardinals during a March 14 game at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Scott Rovak - USA Today Sports)

PORT CHARLOTTE, FLa. - Ryan Sweeney just wanted a chance. Max Kepler hopes he gets another.
The Twins jettisoned two more outfielders Friday to trim their spring training roster to 35, sending Kepler, the prospect, to the minors while releasing Sweeney, the veteran.
Sweeney, 31, was attempting a comeback on a minor-league contract after sitting out the 2015 season following his release from the Chicago Cubs.
Kepler, Minnesota’s 2015 minor-league player of the year, was assigned to Triple-A Rochester, where he has yet to play in his six-year minor league career. He earned a September call-up from Double-A last September and collected his first big-league hit in the Twins’ season finale.
The German phenom hit .233 (7 for 30) - all singles - this spring. He had a pair of RBIs and six strikeouts in 30 at-bats while playing in center field, right field and first base.
“It was a good healthy spring for me, and I hope to get something going for me in Triple-A,” Kepler, 23, said Friday. “My mechanics are down. I’m feeling comfortable in every other aspect of the game. Just (need to work on) situational hitting; I need to focus on the bigger picture.”
The Twins want Kepler to play all three outfield positions at Rochester, with occasional spot duty at first base. At the plate they would like him to work deeper into counts and be more strategic in his approach during games.
“I think he’s learning the bigger picture, what he needs to do during games,” manager Paul Molitor said. “That’s just experience. He’s got a presence in the batter’s box. He stayed in there against lefties. Mostly it’s just his understanding how the game works pitch to pitch and inning to inning.”
The Twins have seven outfielders remaining in camp and some pitched battles to be settled in the next week. Molitor hopes to have the 25-man roster finalized before Minnesota travels to Washington D.C., for a pair of exhibition games on April 1-2 before Opening Day on April 4 in Baltimore.
Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are expected to break camp as starting outfielders. On the reserve bubble are Oswaldo Arcia, Carlos Quentin, Danny Santana and Darin Mastoianni.
Arcia and Santana are out of minor-league options.
Those circumstances conspired to keep Kepler near the back of the line. Still, the talented prospect survived early cuts and the Twins were encouraged by his defense, especially the strength of his throwing arm.
The left-hander was plagued by elbow problems in the past, but he made a nice scoop and throw Thursday from the right-field corner to cut down Miami’s speedy leadoff hitter Dee Gordon trying to stretch a double.
“To see him make that throw gave me a lot of conviction,” said general manager Terry Ryan. “He was not going to beat anybody out and he’s not going to sit on the bench. If this group’s doing well here, there’s nothing wrong with him getting at-bats down there.”
Sweeney, meanwhile, is weighing his options after rebooting his career.
The left-handed-hitting outfielder hit .270 in 37 at-bats this spring. He hopes another big-league team will sign him, and was grateful to the Twins for signing him after the Cubs released him among their final cuts at 2015 spring training.
“Ultimately I know I can still play, and I know that I could go to Triple-A. It’s just a matter if I want to,” he said. “If I was younger I probably would have taken it a lot harder. But I understand the situation and was lucky enough they gave me an opportunity to come play.”

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