Last Friday in the lunch room of the Twins academy in Ft. Myers, players were eating after their morning workout and before their afternoon games against the Rays. Standing in the middle of the room were a couple of guys speaking to each other in German.
Niklas Rimmel, a right-handed pitcher from Berlin that the Twins signed following the 2017 season, was meeting his role model, fellow Berlin native and Twins outfielder Max Kepler. It was the first time that the two had met and the conversation lasted just ten to 15 minutes, but they will talk again before the Twins leave Ft. Myers to start their 2019 season.
Rimmel is the most recent player that the Twins have signed from Germany. When the Twins signed Kepler out of Berlin in 2009, he received a $700,000 bonus, at the time the largest ever signed by a German-born player. Raw at the time, Kepler grew and continued to develop. He was the Twins (and Twins Daily’s) Minor League Player of the Year in 2015
. He helped the Chattanooga Lookouts to a Southern League championship and the next day made his Major League debut. He wasn’t on the Twins Opening Day roster in 2016, but he was called up soon after and has been up ever since. In 2018, he was the Twins choice for the Jim Kaat Award, handed out at the Diamond Awards to the top defensive player on the team. He also hit 20 home runs in 2018.
Early in spring training, Kepler and his first baseball roommate, Jorge Polanco, were signed to long-term contracts. Kepler, who was arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, signed a five year, $35 million contract
with a couple of option years.
While the Twins and their fans look for him to really take a step forward in his production on the diamond starting in 2019, Kepler has already risen up the charts in terms of the top players born in Germany to play in the big leagues. Today, we will show where Kepler ranks among German-born players, what his signing has meant for baseball in Germany, and how Kepler is viewed by young baseball players in his home country.