Scouting Mets' Prospect #41: Jeff Keppinger

Keppinger Is A Great Contact Hitter

Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 4th round of the 2001 MLB Draft out of the University of Georgia, Jeff Keppinger was traded to the Mets as part of the Kris Benson deal. Keppinger has become one of the better contact hitters in the Mets' farm system, the reason he ranks #41 among the Top 50 Mets' prospects. Here's a scouting report on Jeff Keppinger.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Jeff Keppinger
Position: Second Base
DOB: April 21, 1980
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 180
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

The Mets played out the 2005 campaign with a selection of musical chairs at second base, using, in order of games played: Kaz Matsui, Miguel Cairo, Marlon Anderson, Anderson Hernandez, Chris Woodward and Jose Offerman.

Left out among the group was a name that should remain familiar to followers of the last days of Art Howe's regime: Jeff Keppinger.

A 25-year-old infielder picked up from the Pittsburgh Pirates in July 2004, Keppinger made his major league debut with the Mets toward the tail end of that year, batting .284 with three homers in 33 games and proving to be a better defender than initial reports indicated.

But Keppinger was nowhere near Shea Stadium in 2005, his year cut short on June 15 by a fractured tibia while playing for Triple-A Norfolk. Keppinger fielded a grounder up the middle about five feet behind the second base bag and sprinted in the direction of third base, narrowly beating Charlotte's Felix Martinez for a force-out.

But Martinez went in with his spikes high, clipping Keppinger under his left knee. The play cleared both benches and was deemed a dirty play by Tides manager Ken Oberkfell.

"I never saw the play on tape, but the cleat mark where [Martinez] came into me was a good two inches below my knee," Keppinger said. "He came in with kind of a karate chop kick into my leg."

Regardless, it was the end of the year for Keppinger, who spent August in Port St. Lucie, Fla. rehabbing only to be shut down until spring training. His Triple-A numbers froze with Keppinger batting .337 through 255 at-bats, forcing the University of Georgia product to wonder what might have happened otherwise.

"I hope it's not a lost year," Keppinger said. "Everything I did for my team at Norfolk and the numbers I put up there, I hope it's not lost. I hope they don't forget about everything I've done there."

Keppinger says he is "recovered 100 percent" and, six weeks after the injury, had resumed swinging, running, weight training – everything he was able to do previously.

That could open up a possibility as a reserve for Willie Randolph's club, but after receiving just 14 at-bats during spring training in 2005, Keppinger's enthusiasm seems tempered.

"They're like, 'Well, hey, we're not going to just hand you the [utilityman] job, [but] we're going to give you a shot,'" Keppinger recalled. "Well, come into spring training, I think I got 11, 12 at-bats (actually 14) and played third base about seven games. It didn't really seem like they were giving me too much of a chance."

Keppinger – a shortstop at Georgia before being moved after one Instructional League season with the Pirates - played second base, third base and shortstop for Norfolk during his abbreviated 2005 campaign.

He has heard of reports questioning his range or fielding abilities, but strongly disagrees: Keppinger fielded much better than expected when he came up with the Mets, and believes some of those reports have stuck with him since a sleepy 2001 with the Bucs' Instructs team, when Keppinger signed late and didn't show scouts his 'A' game.

In fact, Keppinger feels he can be a productive No. 2 or No. 8 hitter for the Mets, getting on base and hitting behind runners.

"I grant, I'm not one of those little speedy guys who runs all around the field and can make stupid plays," Keppinger said. "But at the same time, those guys who do that will probably make 10 or 15 more errors per year than I will.

"It all depends on what you're looking for. [I can be] a guy who can be your Steady Eddie when you get a ground ball, and he's going to make the play and not cost you a run. … My managers all seem to like me. They all want me to play every single day."

Year

Team

AVG.

AB

Hits

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

K

OBP

SLG

2005

Norfolk

.337

255

86

3

29

40

5

16

13

.377

.455

2004

Mets

.284

116

33

3

9

9

2

6

7

.317

.379

2004

Norfolk

.316

19

6

0

2

1

0

4

2

.458

.368

2004

Binghamton

.362

47

17

0

5

14

2

6

2

.426

.468

2004

Altoona

.334

323

108

1

33

45

10

27

17

.384

.409

2003

Lynchburg

.325

342

111

3

51

55

3

23

38

.365

.424

2002

Hickory

.276

478

132

10

73

75

6

47

33

.344

.404



Batting and Power. It's hard to not like a player like Keppinger, who owns a .314 career minor league batting average with considerably more walks than strikeouts. Keppinger has a keen command of the strike zone and uses a short compact swing to spray balls all over the field. His bat control has drawn comparisons to former Met Dave Magadan, but like Magadan, Keppinger has very little power.

Some may look to Keppinger's 18 home runs in his final year of college or his 10 home runs in his professional debut with Hickory as evidence that he has the ability to hit for power. The fact remains that Keppinger has just 10 home runs in his last 986 professional at-bats. Keppinger has average gap power and due to his extraordinary ability to make contact, is a mistake hitter with his extra-base hits.

Base Running and Speed. Keppinger is not your prototypical middle infielder; he doesn't have the plus speed associated with the second base position. What he lacks in speed, he makes up with natural baseball instincts and hustle. His 68% career stolen base percentage isn't great, but it is good for a player with little speed.

Defense. Keppinger has soft hands that will make the plays on balls hit his way. He makes all the plays he should, but many scouts have questioned his range to be a good defender on a daily basis. The consensus thought is that Keppinger has limited range that won't allow him to get to very many balls hit on the right side of the infield. He does boast a solid enough arm to play on the left side - shortstop and third base - in a pinch.

Projection. Keppinger's lack of power and speed limits his projection as a starting second baseman, especially for a large-market club like the Mets. His exceptional contact hitting and his ability to play a couple of other positions make him an ideal candidate for a spot on the bench. For the Mets, Keppinger projects to be more of a reserve player and potentially dangerous pinch-hitter.

ETA. 2006. With little or no projection left in his game, there's nothing else for Keppinger to prove at the minor league level. Keppinger's bat should carry him to a reserve role with the Mets as soon as 2006.

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