Max Kepler has been featured up and down Twins prospect lists since the Twins signed him as a teenager out of Europe. The list of successful major league players born in Europe is small but there's always been a little something extra with Kepler.
His parents were both professional dancers so he's got a strong athletic background. Minnesota took it slow with Kepler allowing him to play three years in the rookie leagues. Over the last two seasons, he has worked through both Low-A and High-A and spent the fall in the Arizona Fall League. The Twins added him to the 40-man roster following the 2013 season and he's spent the majority of 2015 at Double-A.
The 2013 season had to be a low point for Kepler. He suffered an elbow injury early in the season and he didn't make it onto the field until the end of June. When he returned, he struggled at the plate hitting .237/.312/.424 with 23 extra-base hits in 61 games. In the AFL, he managed a .618 OPS with five doubles in 72 plate appearances. It wasn't a full season debut to write home about.
Things started trending in the right direction during the 2014 campaign. He was healthier and played in over 100 games with Fort Myers. His slugging percentage dipped a little bit (.393 SLG) but his batting average (.264 BA) and on-base percentage (.333 OBP) both improved. Kepler was also close to two years younger than the other hitters in the league so there were signs of good things to come.
This season Kepler is part of a stacked line-up in Chattanooga that includes the likes of top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jorge Polanco. Up to this point in the season, he is outperforming many of the names ahead of him on top prospect lists.
Across 23 Double-A games this season, Kepler is batting .326/.363/.500 with 11 extra-base hits (entering play on 5/19). He hasn't had a slugging percentage of .500 or higher since his second trip through the Appalachian League back in 2012. He's also never hit over .300 at any level.
Besides improving his numbers at the plate, Kepler is also making waves with the other parts of his game. He's already stolen six bases this year after totaling six steals all of last season. His career high in steals is seven so he should be well on his way to breaking that mark.
On defense, he's split time between all three outfield positions and first base. He's been perfect fielding in the outfield to go along with an assist from right field, the outfield spot he's played the most. At first base, he's committed two errors but his fielding percentage is still higher than it was last season.
Kepler's improvements this season definitely make him a player to watch. There's a good chance the Twins will see many of the top prospects debut at some point this season and this could mean Kepler shoots up prospect lists next off-season with the potential to be a top 100 prospect in all of baseball.
There's still a lot of season left but Kepler has shown some early season signs that he's ready to breakout in a big way.
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