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  1. Well our friend GM Ryan is in it deep now. At most companies, performance like we've seen over the last few years, and especially the last month, leads to a short leash on a hot seat (and a whole lot of trying to find someone else to take the fall). At a car company, if Model BB is touted as being the next great American automobile, but is taken off the market after just one month for some rejiggering by the engineers, and a German Model MK is taken out of development early but then left to stagnate, the executive in charge may be gone before either car sees daylight again. But not in the happy land of One Puckett Place, where all of the executives are above average! No, in the land of the godlike one playoff series win in 20+ years and other magical delights, the offices always smell like roses, because things most definitely roll downhill. Today's current recipient of the downhill flow is one Chad Allen, who has the pleasure and the challenge of trying to fix two of the team's most valuable young hitters, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, both of whom have suffered from the unpredictable maneuvering within the private thoughts of GM Ryan. It's like Ryan owns a couple of yachts, but he brings his guns aboard and shoots them around occasionally, leaving glaring holes, and then tells an underling it's his responsibility to make both yachts shipshape and restore them to brand new condition, and make it snappy, and "we're all going to be watching you." We all hope that Lieutenant Allen can do a good job cleaning up GM Ryan's mess. If he fails to restore both yachts to mint condition, there's no telling what the ramifications to Mr. Allen may be, but it is unlikely that he will be skilled enough to make flow roll uphill, where it belongs with its originator and overseer. There is a chance that Mr. Allen is saving GM Ryan, but if he doesn't get these yachts back being prized possessions, he may be the one who is stained with the smell of failure.
  2. When you look at him, you wouldn’t realize that Max Kepler was a cold-blooded killer. Behind the laid-back, polite, innocent-looking demeanor is a 23 year old who is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of murdering Southern League pitching. By now, most are familiar with Kepler’s intriguing backstory – a player signed as a teenager from the baseball boondocks of Berlin. His makeup and athleticism wowed Twins scouts to the point that they were willing to make him the highest paid European amateur signing, in spite of the fact that Kepler had played more soccer than he had baseball. His lack of experience was apparent upon his introduction to a better pool of competition. “You watched him back in the Gulf Coast League and Cedar Rapids, he didn’t know what he was doing,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins Vice President of Player Personnel. “He had a great body and a great swing and he had tools. He had no idea.” That was then. Now, Max Kepler is the reigning Southern League MVP. He essentially forced the Twins into giving him a September call-up. How did the 22-year-old suddenly flip the switch?Kepler says it was frustration with the status quo that prompted him to reevaluate his approach at the plate. In 2014 he was coming off a season where he slugged just .393 with Fort Myers. That was several points higher than the league’s average, to be sure, and the Florida State League with its sweltering, oppressive humidity in the summer months has a way of zapping power from many promising prospects. That being said, he was certainly not creating the type of power expected from a corner outfielder with a six-foot-four frame. “I was rehabbing with Fort Myers and I started with the same approach that I had in '14 and I wasn't happy with it,” Kepler explains. “I was just hitting singles and I wasn't generating much power, which I was looking for in '15. And then, kind of on my own, I just started to raise my leg a little more and sit back on my backside. Which wasn't really a leg kick yet but I had momentum going in my swing.” Since he began the 2015 season late and was assigned with the Miracle as what amounted to a rehab stint, his use in the lineup was sporadic and his at-bats were limited. The inconsistency combined with the new swing did not produce much. It was in Chattanooga that Kepler’s 2015 season began its upward trajectory. Working with Lookouts hitting coach Chad Allen, he says, gave him the guidance to improve his swing as well as confidence to keep using it, in spite of some initial struggles during his introduction to the Southern League. “Chad Allen told me, you know, why not just mingle with the leg kick and see what happens for a week or two. The first week, I struggled and kept [the leg kick] low and then the second week, I felt really comfortable, balanced. It got bigger.” After 12 games into his Chattanooga career, Kepler had a dozen hits, sprinkling in a double and a pair of triples in almost 50 at-bats. The results seemed very similar to his output in Fort Myers. Then, in the final game of a series against the Jackson Generals, he hit two doubles. Something clicked and the floodgates opened. Over the next five games, he hit another five doubles. Kepler said he did not model his swing after any particular hitter but he has studied the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez and his leg work. “I try to be as quiet and soft as he is in the landing,” Kepler says. http://i.imgur.com/aWtUQBM.gif http://i.imgur.com/BWAb7Sz.gif Obviously Gonzalez was a much more polished hitter entering professional baseball (as opposed to Kepler who honed his skills in the baseball hotbed of Germany), and Gonzalez has the good fortune to call Coors Field home where balls travels in the high altitude, but it’s not difficult to envision Kepler adding more home runs to his resume this season. Evaluators say that it is not just what Kepler has done physically with his swing but he has also made improvements in his ability to handle the game between the ears. The mental side that Allen instilled, Kepler says, was to stop obsessing about the count and quit worrying about when pitchers get ahead. Just let it fly. “He told me to be more aggressive. I was more of a patient hitter, didn't like striking out a lot. I was more of a slap hitter once I got a strike on me.” Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky, who says he views Kepler’s minor league development last season as one of the organization’s biggest accomplishments of the year, also had a hand in getting Kepler to pull the ball with authority. “I told Chad, I said his job is to get Max to pull the ball the right way,” he said. “Max has always been able to barrel the ball, put it to left field, left center. Pulling was always a struggle for him.” Contrary to what most believe about the Minnesota Twins’ curation of hitters, inside the organization coaches and instructors work diligently on trying to maximize power potential, not reduce it. This may not have always been the case but there is a renewed emphasis on developing power. The message from the top of the minor league development chain is to drive balls, show aggression and, yes, pull the ball. Kepler, who says he used to “inside out a lot of balls” earlier in his career, has shifted his approach to pulling the ball rather than focusing on dumping a fastball to left field. “You don’t beat up the Southern League and become an MVP like he did without pulling the ball,” Brunansky remarked. “To Max and Chad’s credit, he learned how to pull the ball the right way. You see that coming back into camp this year, which is good. The ball jumps off his bat, he’s got a real quick back.” Some wondered if Kepler’s other offensive skill sets would erode with the focus on generating more power. Would the message to be more aggressive translate into swinging at more pitches out of the zone? Would his strikeouts skyrocket into Adam Walker territory? Interestingly enough, even with the more aggressive mindset, Kepler actually reduced his strikeout rate in Double-A (from 15 to 13 percent of plate appearances). What’s more, as the season progressed and he continued to hammer the ball, pitchers began to respect his power and pitch around him. The naturally patient Kepler was savvy enough to accept a free pass to first. He went from walking in 8 percent of his plate appearances to 14 percent. Those numbers are trending in a mighty fine direction. **** No, Max Kepler was not going to beat out any of the existing outfielders for a spot to start the 2016 season but the move is a blessing in disguise. The crowded roster will give Kepler the time to find out if his revamped approach will hold up against theoretically better pitching in Triple-A. With the minor leagues, baseball has one of the best filtration processes and, as Brunansky says, pitchers will give you instant feedback whether or not an approach will work. If it doesn’t work, Kepler will have to make more adjustments. On the other hand, if he embarrasses International League pitching the way he did the Southern League’s pitchers, he won’t be down for too long. Click here to view the article
  3. Kepler says it was frustration with the status quo that prompted him to reevaluate his approach at the plate. In 2014 he was coming off a season where he slugged just .393 with Fort Myers. That was several points higher than the league’s average, to be sure, and the Florida State League with its sweltering, oppressive humidity in the summer months has a way of zapping power from many promising prospects. That being said, he was certainly not creating the type of power expected from a corner outfielder with a six-foot-four frame. “I was rehabbing with Fort Myers and I started with the same approach that I had in '14 and I wasn't happy with it,” Kepler explains. “I was just hitting singles and I wasn't generating much power, which I was looking for in '15. And then, kind of on my own, I just started to raise my leg a little more and sit back on my backside. Which wasn't really a leg kick yet but I had momentum going in my swing.” Since he began the 2015 season late and was assigned with the Miracle as what amounted to a rehab stint, his use in the lineup was sporadic and his at-bats were limited. The inconsistency combined with the new swing did not produce much. It was in Chattanooga that Kepler’s 2015 season began its upward trajectory. Working with Lookouts hitting coach Chad Allen, he says, gave him the guidance to improve his swing as well as confidence to keep using it, in spite of some initial struggles during his introduction to the Southern League. “Chad Allen told me, you know, why not just mingle with the leg kick and see what happens for a week or two. The first week, I struggled and kept [the leg kick] low and then the second week, I felt really comfortable, balanced. It got bigger.” After 12 games into his Chattanooga career, Kepler had a dozen hits, sprinkling in a double and a pair of triples in almost 50 at-bats. The results seemed very similar to his output in Fort Myers. Then, in the final game of a series against the Jackson Generals, he hit two doubles. Something clicked and the floodgates opened. Over the next five games, he hit another five doubles. Kepler said he did not model his swing after any particular hitter but he has studied the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez and his leg work. “I try to be as quiet and soft as he is in the landing,” Kepler says. http://i.imgur.com/aWtUQBM.gif http://i.imgur.com/BWAb7Sz.gif Obviously Gonzalez was a much more polished hitter entering professional baseball (as opposed to Kepler who honed his skills in the baseball hotbed of Germany), and Gonzalez has the good fortune to call Coors Field home where balls travels in the high altitude, but it’s not difficult to envision Kepler adding more home runs to his resume this season. Evaluators say that it is not just what Kepler has done physically with his swing but he has also made improvements in his ability to handle the game between the ears. The mental side that Allen instilled, Kepler says, was to stop obsessing about the count and quit worrying about when pitchers get ahead. Just let it fly. “He told me to be more aggressive. I was more of a patient hitter, didn't like striking out a lot. I was more of a slap hitter once I got a strike on me.” Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky, who says he views Kepler’s minor league development last season as one of the organization’s biggest accomplishments of the year, also had a hand in getting Kepler to pull the ball with authority. “I told Chad, I said his job is to get Max to pull the ball the right way,” he said. “Max has always been able to barrel the ball, put it to left field, left center. Pulling was always a struggle for him.” Contrary to what most believe about the Minnesota Twins’ curation of hitters, inside the organization coaches and instructors work diligently on trying to maximize power potential, not reduce it. This may not have always been the case but there is a renewed emphasis on developing power. The message from the top of the minor league development chain is to drive balls, show aggression and, yes, pull the ball. Kepler, who says he used to “inside out a lot of balls” earlier in his career, has shifted his approach to pulling the ball rather than focusing on dumping a fastball to left field. “You don’t beat up the Southern League and become an MVP like he did without pulling the ball,” Brunansky remarked. “To Max and Chad’s credit, he learned how to pull the ball the right way. You see that coming back into camp this year, which is good. The ball jumps off his bat, he’s got a real quick back.” Some wondered if Kepler’s other offensive skill sets would erode with the focus on generating more power. Would the message to be more aggressive translate into swinging at more pitches out of the zone? Would his strikeouts skyrocket into Adam Walker territory? Interestingly enough, even with the more aggressive mindset, Kepler actually reduced his strikeout rate in Double-A (from 15 to 13 percent of plate appearances). What’s more, as the season progressed and he continued to hammer the ball, pitchers began to respect his power and pitch around him. The naturally patient Kepler was savvy enough to accept a free pass to first. He went from walking in 8 percent of his plate appearances to 14 percent. Those numbers are trending in a mighty fine direction. **** No, Max Kepler was not going to beat out any of the existing outfielders for a spot to start the 2016 season but the move is a blessing in disguise. The crowded roster will give Kepler the time to find out if his revamped approach will hold up against theoretically better pitching in Triple-A. With the minor leagues, baseball has one of the best filtration processes and, as Brunansky says, pitchers will give you instant feedback whether or not an approach will work. If it doesn’t work, Kepler will have to make more adjustments. On the other hand, if he embarrasses International League pitching the way he did the Southern League’s pitchers, he won’t be down for too long.
  4. When the Minnesota Twins signed Max Kepler to a $800,000 bonus, the organization knew they had a project on their hands. The raw German-born player would have a longer development timeline than most transforming from the toolsy teenager to a polished prospect. Unlike his compatriots in the Western Hemisphere, Kepler lacked the reps and the game awareness that comes from playing against the pool of competition on this side of the globe as a youth. That shortcoming would be on display in his introduction to professional baseball. If you watched Max Kepler this year or happened to have glanced at his stats in Double-A, however, you would have no idea that he came from a baseball-deficient part of the world. Does he have a chance to see playing time in Minnesota this season?Offensively, this season has been different for Kepler. He has gotten more athletic, more aggressive with his swing and Chattanooga’s hitting coach, former Twin Chad Allen, says that is no accident. “We made him do that,” Allen said referring to Kepler’s remodeled swing with a newly incorporated leg kick. There was an emphasis placed on getting him to drive the ball to the pull side without selling out, increasing his power but without sacrificing his contact abilities. Kepler’s swing has come leaps and bounds since his days honing his craft in Berlin. At 16 years old, his mechanics were a crude iteration of what a baseball swing should be. His body lurched out over his front foot to get to the ball. The Twins worked hard to get him to stay back and wait for the ball to come to him. That resulted in a swing like the one he displayed while with the 2013 Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League, as seen below. Kepler would use the toe-tap method while keeping his weight back. The current version is one with an aggressive lower-half that is seeking to drive ball rather than just meet it. If you watch the progression, Kepler develops from a toolsy hack into an athletic and collected power hitter over the course of five years. http://i.imgur.com/DTGsXWG.gif http://i.imgur.com/5isgBaW.gif http://i.imgur.com/oM6PqBY.gif “The first day we worked together this year, we kinda jumped him a bit and got on him pretty hard,” Allen admitted. “He had to realize that his potential. He’s got a high ceiling. We just made him aggressive. Not necessarily a pull hitter but more aggressive to the pull side and just understanding that he’s got to go up with the mentality that ‘I’m a pretty good hitter and I’m going to think that and when I go to the plate, I’m thinking I’m going to drive the ball every time.’” Within the front office, the Twins’ staff was more or less anticipating this delayed learning curve. Mike Radcliff, the organization’s Vice President of Player Personnel, said that this offensive outburst is just the culmination of his development. He noted that international players like Kepler who do not come from Latin American countries like the Dominican or Venezuela that have leagues for players in that country prior to being brought into the United States system -- guys from Australia or Europe -- are often far behind in the game’s development curve. This season, he believes, was Kepler finally catching up to the rest. “His [development] was limited out of Germany,” said Radcliff. “Played a lot more soccer games than he did baseball games before he was signed. It takes patience and we have a lot of that in our organization, thankfully.” Even when their prized European prospect failed to produce an OPS over 740 in all but one of his first five professional seasons, the Twins evaluators never lost hope. “We all assumed, figured, projected he would hit eventually,” Radcliff continued. “This is the year it is showing up on the box score for sure.” His box score numbers in Double-A have been ridiculous so far this year. Among those hitters who have compiled 400 or more plate appearances at that level, Kepler has the highest OPS (.994) by a large margin. His .569 slugging percentage tops Double-A with teammate Adam Brett Walker coming in a close but not that close second (.506). But while Walker has struck out in an eye-popping 176 of his plate appearance, Kepler managed to strike out in just 57 trips to the plate. “For him to produce, something had to click. He’s doing something different and better,” Radcliff believes. “He’s more in tune to the game. He has more focus, he has more concentration, he knows how to react. Most of it is mental. He’s been physically impressive for a long time.” Allen agreed that he has seen a maturing kid with not only an increased level of confidence but an expanding aptitude for the game. The mental aspect of his game is now catching up with his physical side. “You see him doing stuff at the plate now -- and it’s not all the time -- but for instance every once in a while he’ll hit a lefty down the left field line with two strikes,” Allen explained. “That’s something you can’t necessarily teach to a lot of kids but he has the mental capacity to understand that even though I’m being aggressive to the pull side if you can still go the other way and flick a ball down the line, left-on-left, that showing you that the kid has some mental awareness of what is going on with the game and how the guy is pitching to him.” That is another area of his game that has developed rapidly: Kepler has vastly improved against left-handed pitching. Just two seasons ago, he posted a .117 average off of lefties. He managed just seven hits in 60 at-bats and just one for extra bases. A switch flipped for him, perhaps because of confidence or because of the mechanical changes but this season he has compiled a .364 average versus left-handed pitching, or 28 hits in 77 at-bats. The approach that Allen was describing has paid dividends. Kepler’s progress this season goes beyond the numbers as well. Earlier in August, Kepler was ejected from a game after an umpire failed to acknowledge that he was hit on the arm in an at-bat, instead calling it a foul ball. Kepler showed the mark the ball caused to the umpire and was promptly excused for the rest of the day. To Allen, this is a significant milestone. He and the Lookouts coaching staff view that as a sign of confidence. “In reality, Max has been a very laid back guy. A really, really laid back guy,” Allen said. “What really makes us as a staff smile is that he is now showing emotion. And to us, that is one of the biggest things that made us perk our ears up and go ‘oh wow, now we really got something’. He wants to do better, he wants to succeed. I’m not saying you have to show emotion all the time but when he gets pissed off, when he gets mad at a call that to us is saying that son of a buck is competing. When you have a guy that is competing every single day and gets pissed off when he doesn’t have a call go his way or doesn’t get a hit, that’s a big leap for us.” With major league rosters expanding in September, there is an outside chance that Kepler is added as a left-handed bat with outfield and first base capabilities. “I think hitting-wise, he’s there,” Allen assessed regarding Kepler’s current ability to handle major league pitching. “I think the biggest thing that Max is gonna have to learn like everybody learns when they get to the big leagues is that they gotta mentally stay strong when you go up there because the biggest thing that a young player is gonna have to deal with is learning to deal with failure in the big leagues. And if you can't deal with failure in the big leagues, you probably not going to be there very long.” Radcliff is more conservative when it comes to Kepler’s timeline. Despite the outstanding stat line, he believes there are elements of his game that need some refinement. “He’s not ready to be an average major league player tomorrow. He’s along that path. He’s doing good things, he’s produced. He’s hitting .340 but he still doesn’t take at-bats and swing at strikes and handle breaking balls like he is going to have to do to be an average hitter in the major leagues,” said Radcliff. “So there’s way more things that the eyeball picks up along with all the numbers that he is producing that is part of the evaluation process and part of the process for him to make that next to the 25-man roster.” Radcliff noted that he did not want to sound disparaging when he offered up the things Kepler still needed to work on. After all every minor league prospect has things they need to work on before they stick in the major leagues for good. He mentioned Byron Buxton, a mega-prospect, who still needs to improve at the plate. But from his evaluation stance, after years of simply catching up to the rest of the field, Kepler has positioned himself on the fast track headed for Minnesota. “You watched him back in the GCL and Cedar Rapids, he didn’t know what he was doing,” said Radcliff. “He had a great body and a great swing and he had tools. He had no idea. Now, well now, he is starting to understand what he is doing everyday, and every swing and every at bat.” Click here to view the article
  5. Offensively, this season has been different for Kepler. He has gotten more athletic, more aggressive with his swing and Chattanooga’s hitting coach, former Twin Chad Allen, says that is no accident. “We made him do that,” Allen said referring to Kepler’s remodeled swing with a newly incorporated leg kick. There was an emphasis placed on getting him to drive the ball to the pull side without selling out, increasing his power but without sacrificing his contact abilities. Kepler’s swing has come leaps and bounds since his days honing his craft in Berlin. At 16 years old, his mechanics were a crude iteration of what a baseball swing should be. His body lurched out over his front foot to get to the ball. The Twins worked hard to get him to stay back and wait for the ball to come to him. That resulted in a swing like the one he displayed while with the 2013 Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League, as seen below. Kepler would use the toe-tap method while keeping his weight back. The current version is one with an aggressive lower-half that is seeking to drive ball rather than just meet it. If you watch the progression, Kepler develops from a toolsy hack into an athletic and collected power hitter over the course of five years. http://i.imgur.com/DTGsXWG.gif http://i.imgur.com/5isgBaW.gif http://i.imgur.com/oM6PqBY.gif “The first day we worked together this year, we kinda jumped him a bit and got on him pretty hard,” Allen admitted. “He had to realize that his potential. He’s got a high ceiling. We just made him aggressive. Not necessarily a pull hitter but more aggressive to the pull side and just understanding that he’s got to go up with the mentality that ‘I’m a pretty good hitter and I’m going to think that and when I go to the plate, I’m thinking I’m going to drive the ball every time.’” Within the front office, the Twins’ staff was more or less anticipating this delayed learning curve. Mike Radcliff, the organization’s Vice President of Player Personnel, said that this offensive outburst is just the culmination of his development. He noted that international players like Kepler who do not come from Latin American countries like the Dominican or Venezuela that have leagues for players in that country prior to being brought into the United States system -- guys from Australia or Europe -- are often far behind in the game’s development curve. This season, he believes, was Kepler finally catching up to the rest. “His [development] was limited out of Germany,” said Radcliff. “Played a lot more soccer games than he did baseball games before he was signed. It takes patience and we have a lot of that in our organization, thankfully.” Even when their prized European prospect failed to produce an OPS over 740 in all but one of his first five professional seasons, the Twins evaluators never lost hope. “We all assumed, figured, projected he would hit eventually,” Radcliff continued. “This is the year it is showing up on the box score for sure.” His box score numbers in Double-A have been ridiculous so far this year. Among those hitters who have compiled 400 or more plate appearances at that level, Kepler has the highest OPS (.994) by a large margin. His .569 slugging percentage tops Double-A with teammate Adam Brett Walker coming in a close but not that close second (.506). But while Walker has struck out in an eye-popping 176 of his plate appearance, Kepler managed to strike out in just 57 trips to the plate. “For him to produce, something had to click. He’s doing something different and better,” Radcliff believes. “He’s more in tune to the game. He has more focus, he has more concentration, he knows how to react. Most of it is mental. He’s been physically impressive for a long time.” Allen agreed that he has seen a maturing kid with not only an increased level of confidence but an expanding aptitude for the game. The mental aspect of his game is now catching up with his physical side. “You see him doing stuff at the plate now -- and it’s not all the time -- but for instance every once in a while he’ll hit a lefty down the left field line with two strikes,” Allen explained. “That’s something you can’t necessarily teach to a lot of kids but he has the mental capacity to understand that even though I’m being aggressive to the pull side if you can still go the other way and flick a ball down the line, left-on-left, that showing you that the kid has some mental awareness of what is going on with the game and how the guy is pitching to him.” That is another area of his game that has developed rapidly: Kepler has vastly improved against left-handed pitching. Just two seasons ago, he posted a .117 average off of lefties. He managed just seven hits in 60 at-bats and just one for extra bases. A switch flipped for him, perhaps because of confidence or because of the mechanical changes but this season he has compiled a .364 average versus left-handed pitching, or 28 hits in 77 at-bats. The approach that Allen was describing has paid dividends. Kepler’s progress this season goes beyond the numbers as well. Earlier in August, Kepler was ejected from a game after an umpire failed to acknowledge that he was hit on the arm in an at-bat, instead calling it a foul ball. Kepler showed the mark the ball caused to the umpire and was promptly excused for the rest of the day. https://twitter.com/parkerhageman/status/629673557442736128 To Allen, this is a significant milestone. He and the Lookouts coaching staff view that as a sign of confidence. “In reality, Max has been a very laid back guy. A really, really laid back guy,” Allen said. “What really makes us as a staff smile is that he is now showing emotion. And to us, that is one of the biggest things that made us perk our ears up and go ‘oh wow, now we really got something’. He wants to do better, he wants to succeed. I’m not saying you have to show emotion all the time but when he gets pissed off, when he gets mad at a call that to us is saying that son of a buck is competing. When you have a guy that is competing every single day and gets pissed off when he doesn’t have a call go his way or doesn’t get a hit, that’s a big leap for us.” With major league rosters expanding in September, there is an outside chance that Kepler is added as a left-handed bat with outfield and first base capabilities. “I think hitting-wise, he’s there,” Allen assessed regarding Kepler’s current ability to handle major league pitching. “I think the biggest thing that Max is gonna have to learn like everybody learns when they get to the big leagues is that they gotta mentally stay strong when you go up there because the biggest thing that a young player is gonna have to deal with is learning to deal with failure in the big leagues. And if you can't deal with failure in the big leagues, you probably not going to be there very long.” Radcliff is more conservative when it comes to Kepler’s timeline. Despite the outstanding stat line, he believes there are elements of his game that need some refinement. “He’s not ready to be an average major league player tomorrow. He’s along that path. He’s doing good things, he’s produced. He’s hitting .340 but he still doesn’t take at-bats and swing at strikes and handle breaking balls like he is going to have to do to be an average hitter in the major leagues,” said Radcliff. “So there’s way more things that the eyeball picks up along with all the numbers that he is producing that is part of the evaluation process and part of the process for him to make that next to the 25-man roster.” Radcliff noted that he did not want to sound disparaging when he offered up the things Kepler still needed to work on. After all every minor league prospect has things they need to work on before they stick in the major leagues for good. He mentioned Byron Buxton, a mega-prospect, who still needs to improve at the plate. But from his evaluation stance, after years of simply catching up to the rest of the field, Kepler has positioned himself on the fast track headed for Minnesota. “You watched him back in the GCL and Cedar Rapids, he didn’t know what he was doing,” said Radcliff. “He had a great body and a great swing and he had tools. He had no idea. Now, well now, he is starting to understand what he is doing everyday, and every swing and every at bat.”
  6. Chad Allen was the Minnesota Twins fourth-round draft pick in 1996 out of Texas A&M University. After playing for Team USA, he signed late and spent the final week of the season in the Midwest League. In 1997, he started at Ft. Myers but finished the season in AA New Britain. That’s where he spent the entire 1998 season. He hit .262/.344/.399 with 31 doubles, seven triples and eight home runs. He came to big league spring training in 1999 and played so well that he was the Twins Opening Day starter. His greatest memories of that team involved playing with a bunch of his friends. Allen recalled, “I think the best thing that happened to the 13 guys who made it in ’99 is that we were all able to play with each other before we got to the big leagues.” Those guys had quite a bond. He continued, “To have them be able to know when you’re down, to know how to pick you up, to know if you need something, or that a guy will always have your back. That’s a special feeling. That’s something that I think all 13 kind of helped each other out with. We were always there to pick each other up, to have each other’s back.” 1999 was the best season of Allen’s career. He played in 137 games and hit .277/.330/.395 (.725) with 21 doubles, three triples and ten home runs. He spent parts of the next two seasons with the Twins. Some fans reading this may remember the final play he made for the Twins. Playing right field in a mid-August game in 2001, Kenny Lofton hit a ball to the wall. Allen took off for it, but a cleat got stuck in the grass and he tore his ACL. Somehow, Allen got to the ball and side-armed it back toward the infield, keeping Lofton from scoring. That was the type of player he was. He worked for everything and even in that moment,his playing was with maximum effort. It may not have been a long time, but Allen says that his bond to those teammates remains strong. He keeps in touch with several of his former Twins teammates from time to time. “(Doug) Mientkiewicz is managing in Ft. Myers. One of my best friends to this day is Mike Lincoln. He was my roommate my first, second and third years. He’s a great friend of mine. I stay in contact with him to this day. AJ Pierzynski? I saw this year at spring training when he was playing with Boston. He came over to the clubhouse and still says hello to all the coaches. Just a great teammate. Torii Hunter still lives in Dallas. I saw his wife and kids in Dallas a couple of times. It’s just like I say, when you play with guys for two or three years, even though you may not talk to them more than a couple of times a year, there still is that special place in your heart for them because you grew up with those guys, and it was a special time for us all to be rookies in the same year.” He remained in the game, spending parts of 2003 with Cleveland, 2004 with Florida, and 2004 and 2005 with the Rangers. He was with the Royals AAA team for 2006. So, what became of Chad Allen after his playing career? Allen told me, “Honestly, I left the game in 2008. For about two years, I actually went back to school, got my degree and got away from the game. Well, not really got away from that game, but really concentrated on getting my degree so I could get back into the game.” And then it took a bit of random luck for him to get back with the Twins. As Allen recalls, “It just so happened that I was actually coaching at a high school in Dallas, and we were playing a team in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was at third base, and I heard my name called. It happened to be Bill Springman who is now our minor league hitting coordinator. Spring yelled at me, and I looked up. I hadn’t seen him in probably ten to twelve years. So, we started to talk, and I said ‘Spring, I’d love to get back in the game, if there was ever an opportunity for it, I’d really appreciate it.’” It was left at that until the following year when an act of providence occurred. “Ironically enough, his son was actually playing football against our school. I was on the sideline as the sideline referee. He walked up behind me during the game and said, ‘Chad, what are you doing here these days?’ I said, ‘Spring, I’m still coaching here at the high school and would love to get into the game.” He said, ‘Well, you know, I think you might be a guy that we’d like to interview.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, any time you would like, I’d be willing.’” Chad Allen flew up to Minnesota and interviewed with Terry Ryan and Brad Steil. Soon after, he was named the hitting coach of the New Britain Rock Cats. He has served in that role the last two seasons (2013 and 2014). He remains very thankful to Bill Springman for the opportunity. “To this day, I thank him all the time that he gave me this opportunity, and the Twins gave me this opportunity. It’s a blessing. I just pray to God that I can help develop these guys and get them to the big leagues and that they go on and have great careers.” So what brought him back? I don’t think the reasons will surprise you. “To me, it’s the love of the game. Even though I went to school for two years, the desire and the love of the game never left me. Even though I’m not playing anymore, I still have a passion and a love to see these guys go up and have the opportunity to go to the big leagues. You have the relationships that you build with these guys. You have the clubhouse atmosphere that you rarely get to see. Obviously I was fortunate enough to play. And now, to be able to again develop those relationships with players and our coaching staff. To me, it’s the best job in the world to have.” Do his players know that he spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues? Does it give him any credibility with the players? “I think the majority of the guys know that I did play in the big leagues, but no matter if you played zero years in the big leagues or if you have ten, the biggest thing I wanted to do when I became a coach was to gain the confidence of my players. I have to learn as a coach how to gain their confidence and I do that by learning not only what those guys do on the field mechanically and mentally, but what’s going on in their lives off the field. I think if I can gain their trust on and off the field, that’s going to help me in the future.” Allen looked back at his career and the type of coaches that he had and that he enjoyed playing for. “I think the greatest coaches I had were the ones that truly cared about me. If I was up or down, those guys were always behind me, always upbeat. That’s the kind of coach I want to be. No matter how things are going at the plate, I’m behind you and I have confidence in you. That’s just something that was most important for me when I was playing was I wanted my coaches to have confidence in me so I think by gaining their trust, knowing what makes them go is the most important thing for me.” The Twins coaching staff in his minor league days were the guys who became his coaches at the big league level with the Twins. The obvious question remains. Is getting to the big leagues as a coach a goal for Chad Allen? “Obviously that would be a phenomenal gift from God to be able to get back up there. Obviously I can’t tell the Twins that I want to go to the big leagues. That’s a decision that they’re going to have to make. But again, if I made it to the big leagues, would I thoroughly enjoy it? Absolutely! 100%. I think the most important thing for me is the passion and the love for the game is still there. Whether I’m in the big leagues or the minor leagues, I’m going to give my guys everything I’ve got. That’s just something that I… That’s how I played. I played as hard as I could. That’s something that I want to give my players. Whatever they need, I’m going to do the best I can for them.” There is one trait that I have seen from Twins minor league coaches that I have met and talked to. They have tremendous passion for the game of baseball. Chad Allen fits that mold. If you remember his playing days, you remember that he was a max-effort guy, always going at 100% It sure appears that his passion and love of the game has transferred into his coaching career. He has worked with Kennys Vargas this year and Miguel Sano last year. He credits Reynaldo Rodriguez for being a great on-field mentor for Vargas and Eddie Rosario. Starting on Tuesday, he will get the opportunity to start working with top prospect Byron Buxton in an attempt to get him ready for the big leagues. ------------------------------ Thanks to the Twins win against the Houston Astros on Monday night, it means that on Tuesday you can get 50% off a Large of Extra Large pizza for the second straight day when you use the “TWINSWIN” promotion code at PapaJohns.com.
  7. The last time the Minnesota Twins had a stretch of losing seasons like they are today happened in the late 1990s. From 1996 through 1999, the team lost more than 90 games each season. However, the Twins had a team in 1999 that played a lot of young players that would be part of the Twins turnaround last decade. One of those rookies was their starting left fielder, Chad Allen. Today, Allen is in his second season as the hitting coach of the New Britain Rock Cats. Last month, I had the opportunity to chat with him about Kennys Vargas, but also about his time with the Twins and his transition into coaching.Chad Allen was the Minnesota Twins fourth-round draft pick in 1996 out of Texas A&M University. After playing for Team USA, he signed late and spent the final week of the season in the Midwest League. In 1997, he started at Ft. Myers but finished the season in AA New Britain. That’s where he spent the entire 1998 season. He hit .262/.344/.399 with 31 doubles, seven triples and eight home runs. He came to big league spring training in 1999 and played so well that he was the Twins Opening Day starter. His greatest memories of that team involved playing with a bunch of his friends. Allen recalled, “I think the best thing that happened to the 13 guys who made it in ’99 is that we were all able to play with each other before we got to the big leagues.” Those guys had quite a bond. He continued, “To have them be able to know when you’re down, to know how to pick you up, to know if you need something, or that a guy will always have your back. That’s a special feeling. That’s something that I think all 13 kind of helped each other out with. We were always there to pick each other up, to have each other’s back.” 1999 was the best season of Allen’s career. He played in 137 games and hit .277/.330/.395 (.725) with 21 doubles, three triples and ten home runs. He spent parts of the next two seasons with the Twins. Some fans reading this may remember the final play he made for the Twins. Playing right field in a mid-August game in 2001, Kenny Lofton hit a ball to the wall. Allen took off for it, but a cleat got stuck in the grass and he tore his ACL. Somehow, Allen got to the ball and side-armed it back toward the infield, keeping Lofton from scoring. That was the type of player he was. He worked for everything and even in that moment,his playing was with maximum effort. It may not have been a long time, but Allen says that his bond to those teammates remains strong. He keeps in touch with several of his former Twins teammates from time to time. “(Doug) Mientkiewicz is managing in Ft. Myers. One of my best friends to this day is Mike Lincoln. He was my roommate my first, second and third years. He’s a great friend of mine. I stay in contact with him to this day. AJ Pierzynski? I saw this year at spring training when he was playing with Boston. He came over to the clubhouse and still says hello to all the coaches. Just a great teammate. Torii Hunter still lives in Dallas. I saw his wife and kids in Dallas a couple of times. It’s just like I say, when you play with guys for two or three years, even though you may not talk to them more than a couple of times a year, there still is that special place in your heart for them because you grew up with those guys, and it was a special time for us all to be rookies in the same year.” He remained in the game, spending parts of 2003 with Cleveland, 2004 with Florida, and 2004 and 2005 with the Rangers. He was with the Royals AAA team for 2006. So, what became of Chad Allen after his playing career? Allen told me, “Honestly, I left the game in 2008. For about two years, I actually went back to school, got my degree and got away from the game. Well, not really got away from that game, but really concentrated on getting my degree so I could get back into the game.” And then it took a bit of random luck for him to get back with the Twins. As Allen recalls, “It just so happened that I was actually coaching at a high school in Dallas, and we were playing a team in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was at third base, and I heard my name called. It happened to be Bill Springman who is now our minor league hitting coordinator. Spring yelled at me, and I looked up. I hadn’t seen him in probably ten to twelve years. So, we started to talk, and I said ‘Spring, I’d love to get back in the game, if there was ever an opportunity for it, I’d really appreciate it.’” It was left at that until the following year when an act of providence occurred. “Ironically enough, his son was actually playing football against our school. I was on the sideline as the sideline referee. He walked up behind me during the game and said, ‘Chad, what are you doing here these days?’ I said, ‘Spring, I’m still coaching here at the high school and would love to get into the game.” He said, ‘Well, you know, I think you might be a guy that we’d like to interview.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, any time you would like, I’d be willing.’” Chad Allen flew up to Minnesota and interviewed with Terry Ryan and Brad Steil. Soon after, he was named the hitting coach of the New Britain Rock Cats. He has served in that role the last two seasons (2013 and 2014). He remains very thankful to Bill Springman for the opportunity. “To this day, I thank him all the time that he gave me this opportunity, and the Twins gave me this opportunity. It’s a blessing. I just pray to God that I can help develop these guys and get them to the big leagues and that they go on and have great careers.” So what brought him back? I don’t think the reasons will surprise you. “To me, it’s the love of the game. Even though I went to school for two years, the desire and the love of the game never left me. Even though I’m not playing anymore, I still have a passion and a love to see these guys go up and have the opportunity to go to the big leagues. You have the relationships that you build with these guys. You have the clubhouse atmosphere that you rarely get to see. Obviously I was fortunate enough to play. And now, to be able to again develop those relationships with players and our coaching staff. To me, it’s the best job in the world to have.” Do his players know that he spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues? Does it give him any credibility with the players? “I think the majority of the guys know that I did play in the big leagues, but no matter if you played zero years in the big leagues or if you have ten, the biggest thing I wanted to do when I became a coach was to gain the confidence of my players. I have to learn as a coach how to gain their confidence and I do that by learning not only what those guys do on the field mechanically and mentally, but what’s going on in their lives off the field. I think if I can gain their trust on and off the field, that’s going to help me in the future.” Allen looked back at his career and the type of coaches that he had and that he enjoyed playing for. “I think the greatest coaches I had were the ones that truly cared about me. If I was up or down, those guys were always behind me, always upbeat. That’s the kind of coach I want to be. No matter how things are going at the plate, I’m behind you and I have confidence in you. That’s just something that was most important for me when I was playing was I wanted my coaches to have confidence in me so I think by gaining their trust, knowing what makes them go is the most important thing for me.” The Twins coaching staff in his minor league days were the guys who became his coaches at the big league level with the Twins. The obvious question remains. Is getting to the big leagues as a coach a goal for Chad Allen? “Obviously that would be a phenomenal gift from God to be able to get back up there. Obviously I can’t tell the Twins that I want to go to the big leagues. That’s a decision that they’re going to have to make. But again, if I made it to the big leagues, would I thoroughly enjoy it? Absolutely! 100%. I think the most important thing for me is the passion and the love for the game is still there. Whether I’m in the big leagues or the minor leagues, I’m going to give my guys everything I’ve got. That’s just something that I… That’s how I played. I played as hard as I could. That’s something that I want to give my players. Whatever they need, I’m going to do the best I can for them.” There is one trait that I have seen from Twins minor league coaches that I have met and talked to. They have tremendous passion for the game of baseball. Chad Allen fits that mold. If you remember his playing days, you remember that he was a max-effort guy, always going at 100% It sure appears that his passion and love of the game has transferred into his coaching career. He has worked with Kennys Vargas this year and Miguel Sano last year. He credits Reynaldo Rodriguez for being a great on-field mentor for Vargas and Eddie Rosario. Starting on Tuesday, he will get the opportunity to start working with top prospect Byron Buxton in an attempt to get him ready for the big leagues. ------------------------------ Thanks to the Twins win against the Houston Astros on Monday night, it means that on Tuesday you can get 50% off a Large of Extra Large pizza for the second straight day when you use the “TWINSWIN” promotion code at PapaJohns.com. Click here to view the article
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