Puckett’s Pond presents our Top 20 Minnesota Twins prospects. At #3 is Max Kepler
Honorable Mentions #20: Travis Blankenhorn
#19: Wander Javier #18: Stuart Turner #17: Jermaine Palacios
#16: Mason Melotakis #15: Jake Reed #14: Taylor Rogers
#13: Lewis Thorpe #12: J.T. Chargois #11: Adam Brett Walker
#10: Alex Meyer #9: Nick Burdi #8: Kohl Stewart
#7: Stephen Gonsalves #6: Nick Gordon #5: Jorge Polanco
#4: Tyler Jay
Max Kepler was given his first ‘cup of coffee’ with the Twins in 2015. That appearance was largely meant to reward the German outfielder for his outstanding performance in Chattanooga last season.
Name: Max Kepler
Position: OF/1B Age: 23
Height: 6’4” Weight: 205 lbs.
Throws: Left Bats: Left
Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent in 2009
At the end of 2015, the outfielder was named the Southern League Player of the Year. The accolades are warranted, in AA Kepler hit .322/.416/.531. Not only was the bat hot, but he also walked more than he struck out and bagged 19 steals. This honor places Kepler in an elite group of players that has included the likes of Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado, Joey Votto, Evan Longoria, and Paul Goldschmidt. One problem that Kepler faces is that there is currently a log-jam in the Twins outfield. With Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Danny Santana, and Oswaldo Arcia all fighting to fill three roles; the Berliner does not have a clear path to the Major League club.
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If Kepler continues to perform to his 2015 levels, it will only be a matter of time before he finds himself playing in Minnesota. As it currently stands, he may be only one outfield injury away from being asked to contribute early in 2016. Even so, there are still questions that Kepler will be asked to answer in Spring Training and beyond. Prior to last season, the German failed to put up numbers that suggested he would soon be a minor league star. In part his slow start could be attributed to an elbow injury that he suffered at the beginning of the 2013 season. He failed to really put together solid numbers until the last couple months of 2014. It’s possible that the elbow dampened his performance until that time, but it’s also potentially evidence of 2015 being an anomaly.
Looking at video of Kepler when he initially signed with the Twins shows that there was a lot of work to be done in order to turn him into the player he was in 2015. The fact that he has successfully improved with each season speaks to the athleticism that the outfielder possesses. When asked about Kepler’s abilities, fellow Twins Tyler Duffey described him as, “Blessed as an athlete in general but more so as a baseball player. Everything is smooth too. It doesn’t look like he’s going balls to the wall even though he is.”
Kepler’s #3 ranking in our prospect countdown speaks not to his deficiency as a player, but rather to the strength of Minnesota’s minor league system. There are other teams where a player of this caliber would be their top prospect, or would have already broken into the majors. Although 2015 may not ultimately be the typical production of the outfielder in the future, there is plenty to suggest that 2015 was evidence that Kepler has taken the next step in his development. Given his young age and his apparent athleticism, Kepler is a perfect piece for the Twins’ future. Although Kepler will not likely begin 2016 with the big league club, expect Kepler to make an appearance in Minnesota by years’ end.