Kepler A Role Model For German Baseball
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyMax 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
- 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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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