Max Kepler got the news this morning that he was likely dreading, but expecting. He was optioned by the Twins and will report to minor league camp on Tuesday. He had gone 5-11 in his limited plate appearances in his first big league camp. Not a bad showing for a 21-year-old who played ball in Low-A Cedar Rapids in 2013.
Though it was a short stint, Kepler did make an impression. Rob Antony said, “I think Max Kepler handled himself extremely well and had a good spring.”
As you would expect given that Kepler was signed as a 16-year-old from Germany, it has taken him some time to move through the system. He spent a year in the GCL followed by two years in Elizabethton. Last year, he missed the first half of the season with an elbow injury. In 61 games, he hit just .237/.312/.424, but he displayed the tools that made him sought after as an amateur.
He got an opportunity to play in the Arizona Fall League last year and enjoyed the experience despite its challenges.
“It was awesome. It was a real honor. But, the pitching was a lot more challenging out there. Maybe it’s because of the jump from A-ball to Fall League. Pitching was mind-blowing at first, just seeing how good they were. It was awesome being out there with players, as good as they are.”
Over the winter, Kepler was able to spend two months in Germany with his family around the holidays. Otherwise, he spent his time in San Francisco working out.
He went there with a plan. “Running, lifting in my legs. Didn’t do a lot of upper body like I had in the past. I felt too heavy on top.”
In the past, Kepler has played around the outfield and at first base. In the Fall League, he played almost solely at first base. He thought that might be where he would spend a lot of time this spring, but he hasn’t.
“Wherever they need me. They told me I was going to get a lot of work (at 1B) this spring, but I’ve been in the outfield every game. I love it out there, and I’m up for whatever.”
Asked what his strengths were, Kepler has a very interesting response.
“Thinking positive, right now. I’ve learned to think positive. I used to get frustrated at everything back when I was younger. If you think positive, everything will come. It’s a big thing in this game.”
He understood that the answer might create follow-up, so he continued.
“(I) get that question a lot. ‘What do you think your strengths are?’ Immediately you think of physicality; hitting, throwing. I’m just trying to balance all of that. Just trying to think positive and do the best I can.”
When it comes to others, it’s understandable they would jump to the physical. Kepler stands 6-4 (at least) and 220 pounds (at least). He’s got quick hands, strength and power. He has decent speed for his size and plays solid defense.
These are all things that aren’t lost on Rob Antony or the rest of the front office.
Some people have looked past guys like Max Kepler, who has developed well. He’s got a tremendous body. He’s got a good swing. He’s athletic. He can play 1st
or the OF.”
Kepler has said, and did so again this morning, that he has been told that he will move up another level this year and play in Ft. Myers.
Kepler had a strong showing in big league camp which will only bode well for him going forward. He has the tools and the projection. Now he’s had some exposure. It will be a big year for Kepler to start putting up some numbers as well, even in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.