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Kepler A Role Model For German Baseball

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.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
Max Kepler is already in the conversation of best German-born baseball players of all time. A quick glance at the leader board shows that he is clearly in the Top 5 players born in Germany to play in the big leagues. His 419 games played ranks eighth. His 1,633 plate appearances rank sixth. More rankings:
  • Hits (337) - 6th
  • 2B (82) - 5th
  • HR (56) - 3rd (22 home runs behind the leader, Mike Blowers)
  • Runs (199) - 5th
  • RBI (190) - 5th
On these lists, Kepler ranks behind the likes of:
  • 12-year big leaguer Glenn Hubbard who was born at Hahn Air Force Base
  • 11-year big leaguer Mike Blowers who was born in Wurzburg. His step-father was in the army.
  • 11-year big leaguer Jeff Baker who was born in Bad Kissinger. His father was Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army.
  • 10-year big leaguer Bill Kuehne whose family immigrated to the United States when he was very young, played in the 1880s.
Other MLB players born in Germany in military families include: Ron Gardenhire, Craig Lefferts, Edwin Jackson, Will Ohman, Bruce Maxwell, and Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr.

With his recently-signed five-year contract extension, it is likely that Kepler will distance himself from the pack and be the best player ever born in Germany. Of note, he wasn’t just born in Germany, but he lived there his full life and was signed in Germany. The others moved to the States, be it for military transfers or family immigration in the 1800s and early 1900s.

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Niklas Rimmel is a big, tall, right-hander pitcher from Berlin who the Twins signed after the 2017 season. He made his professional debut in 2018 with 14 innings pitched in the Gulf Coast League. He is likely to begin his 2019 season there as well.

Rimmel began speaking with scouts when he was 15 and playing in international tournaments in Europe. “Basically the only way you can be scouted or seen is at a European, international tournament,” he said.

He had several options for teams interested in signing him.


Posted Image

“The whole minor league system of the Twins is really, really good. I like the way that they handle the players. It’s really good that they believe in me and gave me the chance. I really appreciate that.” He continued, “Kepler being with the Twins was kind of part of it. He was my role model.”

While baseball remains a secondary sport in Germany, behind the likes of soccer, among baseball people in Europe, Max Kepler is very highly regarded.

Rimmel noted last week, “In Germany, Kepler is the biggest role model everybody has. That’s why it’s such a great honor to play in the same organization as him. I like having the opportunity to step in his footprints. In ‘Baseball Germany’, he’s a really big name there.”

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With the help of the MLB's academies in Europe, players there do have some more opportunities to be signed than in the past. There are academies in Germany, Italy and The Netherlands. New ones pop up from time to time. As Rimmel noted, that is the main means of players being noticed by MLB scouts.

While Kepler is a hero to kids who love and play baseball in Germany, soccer still easily remains the sport of choice.

Twins Director of Player Personnel and former Director of Scouting Mike Radcliff noted, “Baseball has gained some footage in soccer-infatuated Europe. There are several academies where players are gaining important coaching and teaching in fundamentals.”

Max Kepler came out of the academy in Regensburg, Germany. He told me that there is now one in Paderborn as well.

Kepler sees things improving but notes that it still has a long ways to go. “It’s progressing, little by little, but I think they just lack the funds, and soccer and other sports are still the main focus. It hasn’t really progressed as much as I’d like to see. With time, maybe.”

There was always value for the Twins, or potentially other organizations to sign the best players from countries where baseball was not as popular. The Twins have signed Vadim and Petr Balan from Moldova. Matej Hejma and Jakub Hatjmar signed from the Czech Republic. Hein Robb was from South Africa. Tom Stuifbergen signed from The Netherlands. Frederic Hanvi signed from France. Nik and Andrei Lobanov signed out of Russia.

None of these players got to the big leagues. But the Twins name is known in each of those countries. The same can be said in Australia where the Twins have always been a top contender for the top talent.

But even with the rise of Max Kepler to the big leagues, that alone can’t alter the thinking of a whole country. But again, in baseball circles, Kepler and the Twins are very popular.

Radcliff remarked, “Not sure we expect exponential growth of baseball in Europe, but there are some initiatives and private resources that have spurred interest in recent history.”

Kepler believes that baseball can continue to grow in Germany. It will take time, money and some work. “You need the interest in place when kids start playing at a young age. I can try to do some camps and clinics and such in the offseason and start gaining interest that way.”

He has done it before in Berlin. He talked to some of his coaches and some of his former teammates. They sold out the camp with 100 kids.

For those kids, and every kid who plays baseball in Germany, Max Kepler is the face of not only the Twins franchise, but of Major League Baseball right now.

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12 Comments

wunderbar

    • Minny505, MN_ExPat, Respy and 2 others like this
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Aerodeliria
Mar 22 2019 01:35 AM

Very cool to learn about this. It is always interesting to see the path these pilgrims have taken to get to the big leagues.

    • Minny505 likes this

You did hit the key to this story, Seth.Of all the players listed, he is the only true German.By that I mean he is a native German who grew up playing baseball in Germany.The others are all some combination of U.S. Military kids who were born in Germany, but probably grew up playing ball in the U.S.And a few were born there, but moved to the U.S. and played their youth ball here.So Max is really one of a kind.

 

And I believe he is going to have one heck of a year.

    • CUtomorrownight, Minny505, MN_ExPat and 1 other like this

"11-year big leaguer Jeff Baker who was born in Bad Kissinger."

 

There's really a city named Bad Kissinger?;>)
 

 

"11-year big leaguer Jeff Baker who was born in Bad Kissinger."

 

There's really a city named Bad Kissinger?;>)
 

According to Google, it's 4.5 hours from F*cking, Austria.

 

https://en.wikipedia...ucking,_Austria

    • Twins33, Monkeypaws, Minny505 and 2 others like this

I think that one might be surprised to know that since 1984 Germany has had a professional baseball league in two levels with about 30-35 professional teams or so. The problems in developing talent, like with most cold weather countries, are:1. it is not a school sport, but a club sport (think Rugby in the US) and 2. the season ends in July because of the weather.So there is not a lot of time to practice and kids do not start young, which puts Germany (and other similar countries) in disadvantage as far as talent development goes.

    • CUtomorrownight, MN_ExPat, Respy and 1 other like this

 

You did hit the key to this story, Seth.Of all the players listed, he is the only true German.By that I mean he is a native German who grew up playing baseball in Germany.The others are all some combination of U.S. Military kids who were born in Germany, but probably grew up playing ball in the U.S.And a few were born there, but moved to the U.S. and played their youth ball here.So Max is really one of a kind.

 

And I believe he is going to have one heck of a year.

 

There are many very good baseball coaches from the US working in Germany in the little leagues.The military has set this up for the kids very nicely.Most of us assume the competition is worse in over there, but I would not be surprised if the median little leaguer there is better than the median little leaguer here. Sure, the top team in the US could probably beat the top team in Germany more often than not, but for every very good little league team in the US there are a hundred teams that aren't good at all.

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mickeymental
Mar 22 2019 10:30 AM

 

There's really a city named Bad Kissinger?;>)

 

across the river from good kissinger.

    • Twins33, Minny505 and sloopjont like this
GoMax.

So proud! I'm a Twins Fan since 2003 and with Kepler-Max im i can chear for a fellow German!

And it's Bad Kissingen, Bad in front of City Names means you can go there for treatment, health and diet!

    • ashbury, Seth Stohs, mickeymental and 3 others like this
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Original Whizzinator
Mar 22 2019 05:25 PM
Ve are taking ova!
Photo
Original Whizzinator
Mar 22 2019 05:32 PM

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