Twins’ Kepler Not Done in Double-A Just Yet

There are plenty of people ready to see Minnesota Twins minor league outfielder Max Kepler make his major league debut. The only hold-up right now is his current team, the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, are in a pitched battle with the Biloxi Shuckers for the Southern League title.

Today the Shuckers and Lookouts face off in game four of their best-of-five series for the league championship, which, more than anything has been Kepler’s goal all season.

“I’m not really focused on myself and that really helped me this year,” Kepler said. “Last year I was a mental wreck, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong the whole time. Now I just go out there with the same mentality if I go 0-for-4 or get a hit. I’m just trying to get a win for the team.”

The Lookouts enter the game down 2-1 in the series. Kepler’s performance has been the key to Chattanooga’s success in the series. When the Shuckers shut Kepler out at the plate, they won. When they didn’t, they lost by five runs. It’s been that kind of season for the 22-year-old, who is batting .322 with 32 doubles, 13 triples, nine home runs and 71 RBIs. For that, he was named the Southern League Most Valuable Player.

Kepler is from Berlin, Germany. The son of two professional ballet dancers, his father from Poland and his mother from the United States, Kepler didn’t play baseball in the States until his senior year of high school. As a foreign-born player, he could forgo the draft and signed with the Twins right out of high school.

“I heard the word ‘scout’ here and there whenever I was playing ball (in high school,” Kepler said. “I was still going to school and it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was thankful for the opportunity to go abroad and continue playing baseball.”

Kepler was first scouted by Twins’ scout Andy Johnson at the age of 14 at a junior international tournament. That was the same year that Kepler made the choice that would impact his life and his wallet. Equally good at soccer and baseball, he couldn’t dedicate the time to both sports so at 14, he made the choice to go with his mother’s favorite sport. Four years later he would sign with the Twins for $800,000, the largest signing bonus ever given to a European-born player.

Kepler entered the season as Minnesota’s No. 12-ranked minor league prospect and was already on the club’s 40-man extended roster.

“It’s a blessing, but I have to calm myself down,” Kepler said. “I have to keep reminding myself it’s a process and remind myself it’s a process. I have to stick with the same mentality and focus and hope for that call one day. It’s a step in the right direction, but I take nothing for granted.”

With the Twins (75-73) in the battle for a postseason spot, you could see Kepler in Minnesota as early as next week. He’s proven all he needs to in the Double-A level and the Twins could use his power and clutch-hitting here in the final stretch. If the call comes, Kepler is ready.

“We bust our butts our here every day to get a chance at the big leagues and a chance to contribute at some point,” Kepler said. “Everybody is trying to play a role and looking for a spot.”

Prospect Watch

Kepler isn’t the only Lookouts outfielder to knock the cover off the ball this season. Shannon Wilkerson has hit .292 with five doubles, four triples a home run and 22 RBIs in his 49 games with Chattanooga since being signed from the York Revolution in the Independent Atlantic League midseason. Wilkerson was let go by the Boston Red Sox after last season and six years in the club’s minor league system. Wilkerson is 27, but obviously was worth the second chance in the MLB farm system and you’ve got to like a scouting group that doesn’t lose track of players in the indy leagues.

About Adam Greene

Adam Greene is a writer and photographer based out of East Tennessee. His work has appeared in USA Today, the Associated Press, the Chicago Cubs Vineline Magazine, and many other publications.

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