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Max Kepler

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Maximilian Kepler-Rozycki

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[edit] Biographical Information

Max Kepler debuted in the Bundesliga-1 at age 15 in 2008 with the Buchbinder Legionäre, hitting .185/.333/.185 in 14 games as a backup outfielder. He was in the MLB European Academy that year. He was 8 for 20 with 4 walks, 3 steals, 2 doubles and 8 runs in 2009. His American mother and Polish father were both ballet dancers and enrolled him in a bilingual school in Berlin where he was exposed to baseball starting in elementary school. His love of the game was strengthened during regular visits to the United States for summer holidays, and he kept at the game even when all his friends were playing soccer, and baseball facilities were ramshackle.

Kepler-Rozycki was signed by scout Howard Norsetter for the Minnesota Twins in July 2009. Baseball America speculated he might have broken Alexander Smit's European signing bonus record of $800,000; it was later confirmed that the bonus was $775,000, just below the record-setting figure. He was the third German to sign with the Twins chain, following Tim Henkenjohann and Rodney Gessmann. Kepler-Rozycki injured his foot July 2009, and missed the European Junior Championship as a result. He attended instructional league in September and enrolled at Fort Myers Senior High School across from the Twins' Florida facilities.

He became known simply as Max Kepler after moving to the U.S. and had a strong pro debut. On Opening Day, 2010, June 21st, he started in center and hit second for the GCL Twins. He went 3 for 5 with a double, run and 3 RBI. He hit .287 in 37 games that first season. In 2011 he moved up to the Elizabethton Twins of the Appalachian League, where he hit .262 in 50 games. he hit his first professional homer that season, and in 2012, repeating the level, he hit 10 of them, to go along with a .297/.387/.539 batting line, with 40 runs scored and 49 RBIs in 59 games. That performance comforted the Twins that he was a potentially special player, even though he would likely need more development time than the average prospect, given his background. As he later explained, he had never faced a pitcher who threw above 80 mph in Germany, while in the States "I saw a guy throwing 98 with no control, which is scary."

In 2013, he moved up to the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the Midwest League, his first taste of full-season ball. He only played 67 games however, and his batting average fell to .237 with 9 homers and 40 RBIs. The Twins still moved him up one level in 2014, to the Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League. He took a big step forward that year, hitting .264 in 102 games, with 20 doubles and 5 homers, driving in 59 runs and scoring 53 and recapturing his prospect status.

Kepler had a breakout season for the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2015, when he hit .322/.416/.531 in 112 games, with 32 doubles, 13 triples and 9 homers, 76 runs scored and 71 RBIs. He was named to the World team for the 2015 Futures Game and was voted the Southern League Player of the Year, as well as earning a berth on its All-Star team. He earned a late-season call-up to Minnesota, with the team fighting for a playoff slot. He made his major league debut on September 27th when he pinch-hit for veteran Torii Hunter in the 9th inning of a 7-1 win over the Detroit Tigers. He struck out against Tom Gorzelanny, then took over Hunter's spot in right field for the final half-inning of the game, a symbolic move given that the Twins were looking at him as Torii's potential successor.

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[edit] Further Reading

  • Ted Berg: "Twins prospect Max Kepler could become MLB's first European star", For The Win, USA Today Sports, October 1, 2015. [1]

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