(Redirected from Max Kepler-Rozycki)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 4", Weight 200 lb.
- High School John F. Kennedy School (Berlin); Fort Myers Senior High School
- Debut September 27, 2015
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. He went 1 for 7 in three games in his first cup of coffee in the big leagues.
Max started 2016 with the AAA Rochester Red Wings, but was back in the majors on April 10th. He stayed with the team until the end of the month, but hit only .167 in limited playing time and was sent back to Rochester. He returned to Minnesota in early June and began to play regularly in right field after Miguel Sano was placed on the disabled list, prompting a shuffle in the outfield. On June 12th, he hit his first career homer, and it was a memorable one, a walk-off three-run blast in the 10th inning off Matt Barnes of the Boston Red Sox that led to a 7-4 win. That home run seemed to unlock his power stroke, and he went on a tear over the next few weeks. On August 1st, he hit three two-run homers and added a single in a 12-6 win over the Cleveland Indians. Two of the long balls came against Danny Salazar, and the third off Cody Anderson; he was the 5th player in team history to have a three-homer game. In spite of the time he spent in the minors, the outburst made him the American League leader for homers (14) and RBIs (44) among rookies. he finished the year with a .235 average, but 20 doubles, 17 homers and 63 RBIs in 113 games.
Max Kepler, a native of Berlin, Germany, is the first German-born product of MLB's European Elite Camp to appear on an Opening Day roster in Major League history when he made the Minnesota Twins' opening day roster in 2017. He had another productive season, hitting .243 in 147 games as the regular rightfielder, with 32 doubles, 19 homers, 67 runs and 67 RBIs. The Twins surprised most observers by claiming a spot in the Wild Card Game that year, and he went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk in Minnesota's loss to the New York Yankees. However, like the team as a whole, he had a disappointing season in 2018, seeing his batting average slide to .224, as the Twins finished well out of the playoffs. It was not all bad, though, since he hit 30 doubles and 20 homers, and by drawing 71 walks actually had a higher OBP than in his first two seasons in spite of his lower batting average. He continued to improve early in 2019, as he was now combining a decent batting average and walk rate with his power and the Twins were one of the best teams in the American League. On June 6th, he had the second three-homer game of his career, hitting all three long balls against Trevor Bauer in a 5-4 win over the Indians. He came up in the 9th with a chance at a four-homer game, but hit a single. On June 18th, he entered a game against the Boston Red Sox as a pinch-hitter in the 6th for Marwin Gonzalez and drew a walk. He stayed in the game in right field and proceeded to record a game-tying single in the 8th, a game-tying home run off Hector Velazquez in the 13th, and a walk-off hit in the 17th inning as Minnesota won the marathon game, 4-3. On July 13th, the next time he faced Bauer, he hit homers in his first two at-bats to give him an incredible 5 consecutive at-bats with a homer against the Indians' pitcher. He broke Bobby Thomson's 68-year-old record of homers by a major leaguer born in Europe (though Thomson did not grow up there) when he took Mike Minor deep on August 16th for his 33rd dinger of 2019.
- Ted Berg: "Twins prospect Max Kepler could become MLB's first European star", For The Win, USA Today Sports, October 1, 2015. 
- Mike Vorkunov: "Max Kepler, a major league success story, clears path from Europe to MLB", USA Today News, August 23, 2016.