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Max Kepler

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#1 Sssuperdave

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 09:20 AM

I've been intrigued by Max Kepler ever since the Twins signed him almost four years ago as a 16 year old out of Germany. He has raw tools that make the scouts rave and a very unique background as the son of two professional ballet dancers. According to the Washington Post, he was considered possibly the best European prospect ever when he was signed in 2009.

With that, here is some key info:

Name: Maximilian Kepler
Position: OF
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Born: 2/10/93
Signed: July 2009 (International - Germany)
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 180 on Baseball Reference, 220 according to Ashley Marshall's article this past January

Kepler should be spending this year with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, but is currently in extended spring training rehabbing an elbow injury. According to Mister-Baseball.com, he will be joining the Kernals around the end of April.

There's been a lot of great articles written about Kepler, here are links to a few:

Articles from 2009:

Article from 2012:

Articles from 2013:

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan on posting some stats, video, and my own analysis of his breakout 2012 season.

Edited by Sssuperdave, 17 April 2013 - 09:23 AM.


#2 Sssuperdave

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 05:30 AM

As promised, here is some video of Kepler.

First, there are two videos from the WBC qualifying round on his mlb.com page:
Max Kepler Stats, Video Highlights, Photos, Bio | MLB.com: Team

Next, here's a video from 2010 in the Gulf Coast League:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTTZu1BF4cI

The biggest thing that jumps out to me from these three videos is how awesome his swing looks. I'm not a scout by any stretch, but there are a few players whose swings just look great to me - no excess movement, smooth and strong. Kepler is definitely one of those.

#3 Sssuperdave

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 05:32 AM

Here is a video of Kepler taking batting practice that was uploaded this past December:

#4 Sssuperdave

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 05:35 AM

And lastly... here is an interview with Kepler by MLB Europe during the qualifying round of the WBC:


#5 raindog

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 07:00 AM

Thanks for posting this. I'm such a fan of this guy. Like you said, I'm no scout either, but I love his swing.

#6 kab21

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 07:54 PM

He's still lean but you can see how much he has filled out since 2010.

It looks like the one knock on Kepler is still there. He has a nice swing that should result in a high BA with a lot of line drives but there might not be enough loft to hit many HR's. I'm still pretty excited about him but I'm concerned that there will be some that are disappointed if he only hits 15 HR's as a LF/RF'er.

#7 Sssuperdave

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 08:32 AM

Kepler's stats from his three years as a professional are below:
[TABLE="width: 956"]

Tm

Lg

Lev

Aff

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS



Twins

GULF

Rk

MIN

37

153

140

15

40

6

1


11

6

1

13

27

0.286

0.346

0.343

0.689



Elizabethton

APPY

Rk

MIN

50

221

191

29

50

11

3

1

24

1

1

23

54

0.262

0.347

0.366

0.714



Elizabethton

APPY

Rk

MIN

59

269

232

40

69

16

5

10

49

7


27

33

0.297

0.387

0.539

0.925


[/TABLE]

As you can see, 2012 was quite a breakout year for Kepler. OBP was up 40 points, Slugging up 160, resulting in OPS up 200. He hit 10 homeruns vs 1 in the prior two seasons, and increased his walks while reducing strikeouts. As a result of all of these improvements Kepler jumped multiple spots on pretty much everyones top prospects list.

However, a closer examination of his 2012 season reveals that he may have made some intriguing changes to his approach mid-season. I followed him closely last year, and was getting discouraged by mid July that he hadn't hit any homeruns. Then, starting with a grandslam on July 16th, he went on a tear, hitting 7 home runs in two weeks. Then, his power seemed to cool off a bit the rest of the year.

To follow up on what I thought I saw last year, I analyzed his 2012 season by breaking it into three segments. Here they are:

[TABLE="class: grid, width: 600, align: center"]

Segment

G

AB

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS



1. June 19 - July 15

22

81


18

8

.296

.452

.407

.859



2. July 16 - July 27

11

45

7

2

8

.267

.313

.778

1.090



3. July 28 - Aug 28

26

106

3

7

16

.311

.354

.538

.892


[/TABLE]

The drastic difference between segemts 1 and 2 jumps out at me. In the last two weeks of July, his average was 30 points lower and his OBP was over 100 points lower than the first month of the season, but his SLG and OPS were dramatically higher, obviously driven by his new-found homerun swing. His walks dropped precipitously and he had as many strikeouts in 2 weeks as the previous 4. This suggests to me that his homeruns were not just a matter of some additional strength and fly balls carrying a bit further (which I think Mauer's 09 season was), rather a wholesale change of approach at the plate.

The third segment (the last month of the season) seems to be a compromise between the first two. He still hit some home runs, though not at such a torrid pace, and his AVG and OBP came back up a bit, with average actually higher than the first month, and OBP not as high but still strong at .354.

This approach change is supported by something Kepler is quoted as saying in an article by Ashley Marshall earlier this year:

"I came into the league an oppo [opposite-field] hitter, being fairly slim at 180 and being a pretty fast guy for my size. I'm 220 now -- I gained like 40 pounds -- and I've really learned to pull the ball this last season."

"I'd say the long ball is my thing now. It used to be slapping the ball, getting on base, stealing bases. But I've changed that around and I will keep growing if I stay healthy. I just love running and stealing bases and I hope I don't lose my speed because of my size. I want to be big and fast."


So, what do we make of all this? To me, it is nothing but encouraging. He's now shown he can hit for power, average, and exercise plate discipline. The question is whether he will move even further in the power-hitter direction, or try to balance things out to become a more well-rounded threat. That last month of 2012 is actually the most encouraging stretch to me. He had the best average of the season and brought his OBP back up while still hitting a few home runs.

Edited by Sssuperdave, 22 April 2013 - 08:36 AM.


#8 Sssuperdave

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Posted 03 May 2013 - 10:06 AM

I had an email exchange with Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette yesterday and asked him if he had heard anything about when Kepler might join the team. Here was his response...

Talked to Brad Steil about Kepler this week, actually, and he just mentioned the elbow injury and that it improved and then he had a setback. They don’t think it’s anything serious.

No timetable for a return to playing.


Good to hear they don't think it's serious, but it's too bad that he's missing so much time. I was looking forward to seeing how he would fare in his first full season.

#9 Einstein

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Posted 09 June 2013 - 11:17 AM

Does anyone have an update on Kepler?

#10 fairweather

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Posted 09 June 2013 - 11:22 AM

I'm seriously high on this kid. Can't wait to watch him at Target Field in a couple years.

#11 Sssuperdave

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Posted 10 June 2013 - 08:47 PM

Terry Ryan was on Reusse and Mackey this afternoon and Reusse asked him about Kepler. Ryan said a lot of very complimentary things including that Kepler was a "big, strong kid," that he was definitely ready for low-A ball if not for the injury, and that he was "the real deal." However, Ryan confirmed that Kepler is still out with the elbow issue but didn't say anything very specific. All he said was that Kepler had a "sore elbow" and hadn't been able to play. He said Kepler was supposed to play today in EST for the first time in a while and that he would be checking the box score carefully to make sure he did. (Side note - does anyone know if EST boxscores are online anywhere???)

I'm probably reading too much into this, but Ryan sounded pretty frustrated when he was talking about Kepler's elbow. This seems to me like one of those classic Twins injury situations we've seen over and over again in the past few years. Someone looks like they'll be out for a few games and end up out for a couple months with no clear injury other than something that is bruised, sore, etc. I imagine this happens to all teams, but it sure is frustrating! As frustrating as it is for us as fans, I have to think it is countless times more frustrating for the players themselves.

I'm hoping for the best for Kepler as he gets into games in EST, hopefully we will see him in Cedar Rapids soon!

#12 Smcginnity

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 09:31 AM

What is going on with Kepler? When is he coming back?

#13 Steve Lein

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 10:56 AM

I hope it's soon! He's also one of my favorite prospects we have down in the system. I too like his swing. The year before this I got to watch quite a bit of him at Spring Training, where he was playing with the Beloit roster (that included Sano, Vargas, Rosario), and he was the best in-game hitter without a doubt. You tend to notice when everything he hit was a line drive somewhere. This one was especially well-struck: Max Kepler lines a double down the opposite field line (video) on Twitpic

Never like to hear the injury questions when it comes to Twins players like this though, hasn't boded well for them in recent times...

Scouting Report: Power: 30, Hitting: 50, Arm: 60, Defense: 40, Speed: 40. "Line drive swing and shows good contact and on-base abilities. Double's power at his peak. Strong arm from 2B or the OF, stiff hands. Not a fast runner, but above average instincts on the bases. Skinny body doesn't look the part, but can sneak up on you. ACL surgery sapped much of his athleticism." (Probably)


#14 SD Buhr

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Posted 17 June 2013 - 06:51 PM

Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette is reporting that Kepler is headed to Cedar Rapids. In a follow-up Tweet, however, he also added that he's heard Kepler's elbow is "still not good enough to throw."

Jake Mauer had previously told the media that Kepler would not be sent up to the Kernels until he could play in the field. Should be interesting to see what's up when he gets to CR.

Covering the Cedar Rapids Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com while my alter-ego, Jim Crikket, opines about the Twins and Kernels at Knuckleballsblog.com.

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#15 Sssuperdave

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Posted 18 June 2013 - 08:23 AM

As other folks have noted, Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette has posted that Kepler will be joining the Kernels starting Thursday after their all-star break. According to the blog post below Jake Mauer said over the weekend that Kepler's elbow was still preventing him from playing in the field. Perhaps he'll be the DH for a while? Either way, I am certainly excited to hear he'll be back in action soon.

Kepler headed to Kernels; end of line for Buxton? | TheGazette

#16 Sssuperdave

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Posted 24 June 2013 - 07:52 AM

Kepler saw his first action of the year this week playing in 4 games for Cedar Rapids. He played LF on his first day back so evidentally they felt his elbow was ready for the test. On the week Kepler had 5 hits (3 of the doubles), 2 walks, 3 RBI, and 4 strikeouts, resulting a 4-day slash line of .278/.350/.444, which is a .794 OPS.

It will be interesting to see how much time he gets in CF now that Buxton has been promoted to Fort Meyers. Last week he played 2 games in LF and was the DH twice.

#17 Sssuperdave

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Posted 24 June 2013 - 11:44 AM

SD Buhr posted a great article today than includes an interview with Kepler. Check it out!

Kernels Post-Buxton Era Begins: Welcome Max Kepler - Blogs - Minnesota Twins News & Rumors Forum

Here's my favorite quote:

SDB: Do you have a particular hitting philosophy? Do you see yourself as a power hitter or are you just concerned about driving the ball and if it goes over the fence, fine?

Kepler: I used to strictly see myself as a contact hitter. I came to the Twins as a contact hitter, just going (opposite field) all the time.


Now, basically, it’s just a start to a new season, first couple games, just see the ball right now and hit it. But when I’m in a groove, I like it to go far, the ball to go deep.


SDB also asks lots of great questions about Kepler's parents and growing up in Germany playing baseball.

#18 Sssuperdave

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 02:22 PM

Big day for Kepler today with a homerun and a double. In addition, he played centerfield due to the Buxton promotion.

#19 SD Buhr

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 02:37 PM

Glad you enjoyed the article, Sssuperdave. I really enjoyed talking to Kepler Sunday.

Then again, I've enjoyed interviewing all of the Kernels I've had a chance to sit down with this season. They've all been fun to talk to and obviously a terrific team to watch play ball.

Covering the Cedar Rapids Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com while my alter-ego, Jim Crikket, opines about the Twins and Kernels at Knuckleballsblog.com.

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#20 goulik

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 09:41 PM

First CR Kernels game and Max really helped me get over missing the Buxton era...was supposed to see them April 17th but was rained out. Kepler looks like the real deal but with his size does he really project as CF prospect? I thought he looks more like a corner outfield long term.