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Max Kepler Shows Breakout Potential


Cody Christie

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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.

 

For more from Cody Christie make sure to follow him on Twitter @NoDakTwinsFan and to read his other work at http://www.NoDakTwinsFan.com

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I had picked Kepler to be my pick to click last year. Looks like I was a year early. But considering his youth, who cares missing the target by a year.

 

Always been a believer and been expecting something to click. Scouting reports have always intrigued, along with reports of attitude and work ethic. I remember my father seeing him at ST year before last, and just talking about how smooth and athletic he looked in his movements.

 

I seriously doubt his future is in CF. Despite depth of OF talent in the system starting to come to fruition, he could find himself owning one of the corner OF spots. But I keep seeing him as the Twins next 1B while backing up in the OF. Darin Erstad anyone?

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I picked Max to click this year based on his AFL showing.

 

His BABIP is not sustainable at .367 and I suspect his K% is, too, at 9.5%.  His current BB% is only 6.3%.  His offense has been very much driven by his batting average.  It is perhaps wishcasting, but I perceive an uptick in plate discipline and power lately.  He will need more of that as his batting average regresses.  I think he is just tapping his power potential.  And his confidence has to be soaring.

 

The good news is that he is hitting .316/.350/.474 against LHP's.  But then again, that's only over 19 AB's.

 

I'm not sure Kepler's defense is tenable in CF for two weeks.  His fringe average arm might limit him to LF.

 

I don't see a surplus in the OF yet.  I am counting on Buxton.  I have always hoped that Hicks abides.  But if Arcia can't put up offensive numbers that make his defense tolerable, that leaves Kepler and Rosario. [And Sano.]  With his peripherals, I think Kepler will eclipse Rosario.

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