Twins option Kepler, release veteran Sweeney

March 25th, 2016

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins' outfield situation became a bit clearer on Friday as Max Kepler, the organization's No. 3 prospect, was optioned to Triple-A Rochester and veteran Ryan Sweeney was released.

It leaves 35 players in camp, including veteran outfielder Carlos Quentin, who is still competing for a backup role with Oswaldo Arcia, who is out of Minor League options. The other five outfielders in camp are left fielder Eddie Rosario, center fielder Byron Buxton, right fielder Miguel Sano, utility man Danny Santana and non-roster invitee Darin Mastroianni.

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Kepler, ranked as the No. 44 overall prospect by, hit .233/.258/.233 with two RBIs in 15 games. He'll head to Triple-A Rochester for the first time in his career, as he skipped that level last year when he went straight from Double-A Chattanooga to the Majors as a September callup. Twins manager Paul Molitor broke the news to Kepler, who saw action in center field, right field and first base this spring.

"He told me he was happy with my all-around game," Kepler said. "I'm glad I made it this far. Unfortunately, I didn't make it all the way. But I look forward to a good season, a lot of wins, and see where it takes me."

Molitor said the only way Kepler would've made the team was as an everyday outfielder, so now they'll look to get him consistent at-bats with Rochester. Molitor added he'd like to see Kepler work on his situational hitting.

"We feel like he has to go down there and play on a regular basis," Molitor said. "I think we always look for guys to get more consistent. I think the one thing he's learning is about his role within a game and [having] awareness, whether it's in the batter's box or other situations."

"They told me that I have to work on my situational hitting," Kepler said, "not just to go up there and hack. But this spring, something told me it was just Spring Training, so I didn't need to pay attention to situations as much as the season when everything counts. But now I know next spring, I need to act differently when those situations come up."

Sweeney, meanwhile, had a solid spring, hitting .270/.372/.378 with four doubles and four RBIs in 16 games. But he didn't figure into the club's Major League plans, so he was released with enough time to sign with another team. Sweeney is hopeful he'll be able to find a Major League deal, but if he doesn't, he'll weigh his options and see if he wants to play for a club's Triple-A affiliate. Last year, Sweeney was released by the Cubs at the end of Spring Training and decided to sit out the season instead of playing in the Minors.

"I felt like I did what I needed to," Sweeney said. "I know people need outfielders right now, so it depends on if it's a big league deal or not. And see where it is. It was nice of them saying it wasn't fair to me to go to Triple-A because they have a lot of outfielders there. So at least they were honest with me."

Sweeney, 31, added that he understood why the decision was made, as both Arcia, 25, and Santana, 25, are out of Minor League options. Arcia and Santana remain front-runners for the final two bench spots as a result, while Quentin and Mastroianni are playing well as non-roster invitees.

"I feel like I had a good spring, but I understand the situation they're in," Sweeney said. "They've got a few guys who are out of options, too. If they don't lose those guys, they've got to keep them. So if I was younger, I probably would've taken it a lot harder. But I understand the situation, and I was lucky enough for them to give the opportunity to come play."

Twins general manager Terry Ryan said the decision was more about the club's outfield depth than Sweeney not earning a job on the roster.

"Some of the other guys in camp maybe emerged, let's put it that way," Ryan said. "It wasn't anything he did not do. He came in and got plenty of opportunity. He got exposure and a chance and all the things I was hoping, but we just got some people ahead of him."