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  • TD Top Prospects: #10 Max Kepler

    Age: 19 (DOB: 2/10/93)
    2012 Stats
    APPY: 59 G, .297/.387/.539, 10 HR, 49 RBI, 40 R, 7/7 SB
    ETA: 2017

    Max Kepler is a Minnesota Twins top prospect

    By the time he's done playing, Max Kepler might be known as one of the greatest major-league hitters ever to come out of Europe.

    And he's the tenth-best prospect for the Twins? That seems crazy. But take a look at this all-time European All-Star team that Dave Schoenfield put together a couple years ago. There are some good careers in there, but unless you're a real hardcore, you might not recognize a name other than Bert Blyleven (who lived in the Netherlands for all of two years).

    Clearly, the continent hasn't been a traditional pipeline for baseball talent. But the Twins saw something they liked in the 16-year-old Kepler out of Germany, and handed him the largest bonus ever for a European ($800,000) just after the window opened for international signings in 2009.

    It was a bold move made possible by an unprecedented spending spree for the Twins one that led to Miguel Sano's signing a few months later. And while the slugging Dominican gets all the fanfare, the aggressive bid on Kepler is quickly beginning to pay dividends as well.

    The Good
    Kepler adjusted slowly to the professional ranks. That's understandable for a high school aged kid acclimating to a new country. But last year he turned a corner in his second turn at Elizabethton, pacing the Appalachian League with a .539 slugging percentage and markedly improving his plate discipline.

    The lefty-swinging outfielder has a well rounded skill set with the abilities to run, catch and hit for both average and power. The son of two prominent ballet dancers, he's an athletically gifted kid who is already listed at 6'4" as a teenager. When he first signed with the Twins, Baseball America's Ben Badler picked up the following tidbit:

    "Kepler is the toolsiest kid we've ever had in Europe," said the scout. "No question."
    His emergence last year is a sign that the on-field performance may be catching up with the innate ability. When that happens to guys with such immense physical upside, stars are born.

    The Bad
    The big numbers in E-town were eye-catching, but they came on the heels of two pedestrian efforts to launch his pro career. In 2010 Kepler posted a .689 OPS in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and in 2011 he registered a .714 mark after stepping up to the Appy League. Between the two partial seasons, he totaled one home run while whiffing at a 22 percent rate.

    As mentioned above, it's hard to hold those struggles against him because he was 17 and 18, and he blew all previous numbers out of the water last year. Still, it bears noting that he was repeating the same level and thanks to his early start was more experienced in the pro ranks than much of his competition.

    The Bottom Line

    Kepler has all the physical tools to be a quality major-league outfielder and last year at Elizabethton he backed them up with outstanding production. He remains on the fringe of our Top 10 because much uncertainty surrounds him yet, but a successful transition to full-season ball in Cedar Rapids this year would have him propelling up this list.
    This article was originally published in blog: TD Top Prospects: #10 Max Kepler started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 27 Comments
    1. Chance's Avatar
      Chance -
      He'll move to first. I have nothing to base this on but that he has made some starts there (so I have heard on here in the past) but I do believe that he will be moved to improve 1st in our minors. Would anyone have a problem with him at first?
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      we have several players projected as dh or 1b typesin our system all ready, yes i understand we have several outfielders also , but there are 3 outfielder spots and only 2, 1b/dh spots
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      I love Kepler. I've said this before, but he's the first guy where seeing him play in-person changed the view I had of him in my head from everything I'd read and the stats he had put up. I saw a player who was far better than what those things told me, and I suspect will be much higher on this list than #10 next year.

      Check out this double to the opposite field from ST last year: Max Kepler lines a double down the opposite field line (video) on Twitpic

      He was playing on the Beloit roster, and in the 3 or 4 games I watched, he was their best in-game hitter by far, and I was actually very disappointed with what I saw from Sano and Rosario (and was very surprised Kepler didn't play at all with Beloit during the year).

      Quote Originally Posted by Chance View Post
      He'll move to first. I have nothing to base this on but that he has made some starts there (so I have heard on here in the past) but I do believe that he will be moved to improve 1st in our minors. Would anyone have a problem with him at first?
      He played 1B on his team in Germany, and I think he's played a few games at 1B in the minors out of necessity (like less than 5 games total). He is still getting bigger, and isn't as fast as he used to be, but I don't see a move back to 1B. I'm guessing LF will be his home, with all that said, he's still plenty fast.
    1. FrodaddyG's Avatar
      FrodaddyG -
      Quote Originally Posted by Chance View Post
      He'll move to first. I have nothing to base this on but that he has made some starts there (so I have heard on here in the past) but I do believe that he will be moved to improve 1st in our minors. Would anyone have a problem with him at first?
      Yes. He has ridiculous natural athleticism. There's no way that should be wasted on the least athletic position on the field unless absolutely necessary. I'm guessing he's played first here and there simply as a way to get him into a crowded lineup. No way that becomes full-time when he can possibly be a top notch defensive outfielder.
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      He has the ability and frame to play 1st, but he is too good of an outfielder to move any time soon. Besides the Twins have two very solid prospects in Vargas and DJ Hicks at 1B / DH. The Twins will end up trading some of their OF prospects in the next year or 2. They have 6 or 7 potentially solid regulars and some solid 4th OF prospects: A. Hicks - B. Buxton - A. Oswaldo - E. Rosario (?) - J. Benson - M. Kepler - A Walker - N. Roberts - R. Jimenez - JD Williams - A Morales - D. Ortiz - J. Pineda. All that said - Kepler will stay and man an OF spot (LF)
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I think Left Field will be his position as well. He played CF the whole Elizabethton season... until they brought Byron Buxton up and Kepler moved over to LF. I do think it's smart to continue to give him work at 1B as well, just in case there is a need there sometime in the future.

      It will be interesting to see if the Twins (or if he forces the Twins to) add him to the 40 man roster following the upcoming season.
    1. righty8383's Avatar
      righty8383 -
      Seth, would Sano and Kepler be rule 5 eligable after this season if not put on 40 man? Or would it be next season?
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      Seth - As the AA roster (New Britain) has no outfielders listed on its website roster - do you think that some of the lower level outfielders in Rookie - A and High A have a chance of moving up an extra level if impressive in Spring Training. How do they plan to fill some of the empty roster spots at these various levels? Could Nate Roberts go to AA or Kepler or Walker (older) go to High A or even a kid like Jonathan Murphy move from GCL up to A or High A because he is an older prospect ? (until draft and/or incoming OF prospects shape things out)

      What happens to those vacant roster spots within the next 2 months?
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Kepler doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until 2015 at the earliest. See him making a September call-up that year. Maybe repositioning himself in 2016 like Parmelee now, and making the team fulltime in 2017.
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      Who will play where in Spring Training & Who will play where on various Opening Days?

      AAA = Bigley & Ramirez only (waiting for Hicks / Arcia and/or Benson)
      AA = ????????
      A+ = Ray; Morales; Goncaives; Rams; Ortiz;
      A = Leachman; Roberts; JD Williams;
      R = Kepler; Buxton; Walker; Jimenez;
      Finally - as they possibly call up Hicks; Arcia; and/or Benson in May/June - what will be the trickle up effect for lower level OFers in your opinion?
    1. nfisch22's Avatar
      nfisch22 -
      I would rather him stay in the outfield. First I think he's too athletic to not keep in the outfield. Second what is he, a year or two behind Sano? I think long term Sano ends up at first and this would essentially be blocking Kepler's path to MN. Granted there are still things that could go wrong with either one of these prospects
    1. pajavorski's Avatar
      pajavorski -
      A move to first would definitely diminish his value. I am no expert but shouldn't a move to first be a last resort move in AAA if his defense was just not developing as well as his bat?
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Quote Originally Posted by Chance View Post
      He'll move to first. I have nothing to base this on but that he has made some starts there (so I have heard on here in the past) but I do believe that he will be moved to improve 1st in our minors. Would anyone have a problem with him at first?
      Um, maybe Kennys Vargas?
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by lightfoot789 View Post
      Who will play where in Spring Training & Who will play where on various Opening Days?

      AAA = Bigley & Ramirez only (waiting for Hicks / Arcia and/or Benson)
      AA = ????????
      A+ = Ray; Morales; Goncaives; Rams; Ortiz;
      A = Leachman; Roberts; JD Williams;
      R = Kepler; Buxton; Walker; Jimenez;
      Finally - as they possibly call up Hicks; Arcia; and/or Benson in May/June - what will be the trickle up effect for lower level OFers in your opinion?

      Baseball America's book says Arcia will start the season in New Britain. But the Twins have lots of outfielders. Besides Bigley and Ramirez in Rochester, they also have Clete Thomas, Brandon Boggs, Hicks, Arcia, Benson. Roberts could move all the way to AA. Ray will. Morales most likely will. Rams likely needs to get to AA this year. Tons of options.
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      Baseball America's book says Arcia will start the season in New Britain. But the Twins have lots of outfielders. Besides Bigley and Ramirez in Rochester, they also have Clete Thomas, Brandon Boggs, Hicks, Arcia, Benson. Roberts could move all the way to AA. Ray will. Morales most likely will. Rams likely needs to get to AA this year. Tons of options.
      Thanks - I forgot about Thomas and Boggs. Are they both considered fill ins until they call up Hicks and Benson or other prospects. Do they have a legit chance of staying within system?
    1. Jeff P's Avatar
      Jeff P -
      For those interested, milb.com had a nice article on Max last week. Excerpt:

      Kepler was offered a tennis scholarship at the Steffi Graf Foundation at 7, but after competing intensely for three years, decided he preferred team sports to one-on-one competitions. When he stopped serving as a youth goalkeeper for Hertha Berlin at 11, baseball took center stage. With conflicting game schedules, Kepler had to choose one or the other.
      "I played a little bit of everything. I just loved being active," said Kepler. "I wasn't the kind of kid that stayed at home. I just loved being outside, throwing balls, hitting balls. I picked up motions pretty easily.

      Passport Prospects: Max Kepler | MiLB.com News | The Official Site of Minor League Baseball

      When does he need to be added to the 40 man? I thought it was after 2014.

      Jeff
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      nice write-up.

      I feel this kid has an experience deficit, growing up in a land where baseball is pretty much a novelty. Then he left home in a big way and at a very tender age.

      That shows to me that he has maturity. Repeating E-Town is okay as long as you shred like he did.

      I hope/expect his deficit is now eliminated, and he will progress at a normal level.
    1. Jeremy Nygaard's Avatar
      Jeremy Nygaard -
      Everything roster-related I say here can be found here, whose existence is still surprising people.

      The outfielders I have pegged for AA are: Arcia, Roberts, Ray, Morales and Rams. While I think it's possible someone could start down here and move up quickly (like Mastroianni did last year), these are guys I anticipate will start in New Britain. When Arcia moves up, Danny Ortiz will take his place. Could Joe Benson find himself here again to start the year? I wouldn't rule that out either. That would allow Hicks and Benson to play CF everyday if neither make the team.

      Kepler was signed in July of 2009, so he'll have to be protected next November. Short of an absolute implosion, I see very little chance that Kepler won't be a 40-man addition. You can see all seven guys I pegged as "additions" on the above link as well.
    1. Jeremy Nygaard's Avatar
      Jeremy Nygaard -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      Kepler doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until 2015 at the earliest. See him making a September call-up that year. Maybe repositioning himself in 2016 like Parmelee now, and making the team fulltime in 2017.
      Arcia was signed 7/4/07 and added to the 40-man in November of 2011. (Younger than 19 at signing, he's eligible for the 5th Rule 5 after signing... 07, 08, 09, 10 and the fifth is 11, so he was added before that.)

      Kepler was signed 7/11/09. 09, 10, 11, 12... the fifth will be in Dec 13, so he'll need to be added in November of 2013.

      I have read conflicting reports about when Sano will need to be added, but as near as I can tell, signing in October of 09 instead of July, doesn't change when he'll need to be protected. (2013 as well.)
    1. Jeff P's Avatar
      Jeff P -
      Thanks for the info on the 40 man Jeremy, very helpful.
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