Baseball: Kepler makes quick impact in Cedar Rapids

Max Kepler (22) was born in Germany and now plays in the Minnesota Twins farm system in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The 20-year-old may some day have a future in Minnesota.
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Fans of the Cedar Rapids Kernels minor league baseball team have gotten to see some pretty good players the last few years. They might have been disappointed when Byron Buxton was called away at the half-way point of the 2013 season, but Max Kepler has arrived to take his place.

Back in 2010, when the Kernels were an affiliate of the Los Angels Angles, Mike Trout played in Cedar Rapids. He quickly moved to the Major Leagues and was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2012.

The Kernels became a Minnesota Twins affiliate in 2013 and Buxton arrived on the scene. He tore up Midwest League pitching, a lower Class A league, and was promoted at the midway point of the season.

When Buxton, a center fielder, departed, Kepler arrived. Kepler is a native of Berlin, Germany, and he arrived with a bang in Cedar Rapids last week. The left-handed hitter lofted a two-run, game-winning home run to left field in his first home game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.

"It felt good and I told myself the wind was blowing out so it had a chance," Kepler said. He had also drilled a double off the wall in left in his first at-bat.


Kepler was up for an encore in his second game in Cedar Rapids. He went 2-for-4 for a second straight game and he pulled a long home run to right field.

"I tell you what, he's got a pretty quick bat," Kernels manager Jake Mauer said. "He gets through the zone (quickly). He hit that ball to right a long way."

Kepler has been playing center field for the Kernels, but Mauer said he will likely play all three outfield position and maybe some at first base. But playing center, if looks like he is replacing Buxton.

"(I'm) just doing my own thing, focused on myself," Kepler said. "He's a great player and I hope the best for him. I love playing center field and I'm going to do my best at it."

Buxton batted in the leadoff role for the Kernels. Kepler has been hitting in the No. 5 spot. Buxton and Kepler might have been in the same outfield at the beginning of the season. But Kepler, who played at Elizabethton the last two years, missed the start of the season with a strained elbow.

Was on rehab assignment

"If he would have broke camp with us he probably would have been our three-hole hitter to start the year," Mauer said. "He hurt his elbow in spring training and was down there in extended (spring training) and stayed sharp. Now his elbow is feeling pretty good. "

"I had a couple of setbacks so it took me a while to get back," Kepler said. "Injuries are part of baseball and you have to fight through it."


Kepler is now 20 years old, but he was signed by the Twins when he was 16. He has a unique story. Both his parents were ballet dancers. His mother is from Texas and his father is Polish. They met and fell in love while performing in Berlin.

"I grew up in Germany," Kepler said. "Played soccer and baseball on the side and got signed by the Twins."

Despite his artistic parents, Kepler never had the passion to dance.

"My mom got me into it (baseball)," he said. "She's a big baseball fan from Texas .... and found a league where I could play."

Kepler speaks German and Polish as well as English. And he speaks English without a trace of an accent. Of course he did spend plenty of time in the United States growing up. He then came here for good when he was signed by the Twins.

"I kind of came over every summer just to visit my family in Texas," Kepler said. "I was used to it, but school was a lot different. Luckily I fought through it in like four months and got my diploma. It was an easy adjustment."

Maturing physically

Kepler has a chance to be a decent power hitter as he continues to mature. The skinny youngster is now 6-foot-4 and has filled out nicely.


"He's starting to turn into a man as far as physically," Mauer said. "He was maybe a 160 pounds when we got him and he's probably 200 now.

"He's physically maturing," Mauer added. "He was always a contact guy. When he was a young kid he put the barrel (of the bat) on it (the ball)."

Kepler is considered one of the top 10 minor league prospects in the Twins organization. He has the type of talent that might not keep him in the lower minor leagues too long.

"I'm here for my team and to win," Kepler said. "I'll just play simple baseball, put the ball in play and see what happens. I'm not trying to set an records or anything, just trying to play baseball."

"It's scary to think what he would have done if he would have been here right out of the gate," Mauer said. "He looks good. He's doing a nice job in center field. He runs good for a big guy.

"He's a pretty impressive young man and we're looking forward to him doing what he can do," Mauer added. "Just being one of the guys and joining this team and see how it goes."

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