Twins' Kepler Receives Crash Course In U.S. Culture





MINNEAPOLIS—Having conquered America, Max Kepler returned to Germany.

The 17-year-old will spend three months back home in Berlin this offseason. It's a reprieve Kepler earned from spending the previous 16 months in the United States earning his high school diploma, getting his driver's license, adapting to a foreign country—and learning baseball from the Twins.

"Everyone is extremely impressed with how he's handled himself," vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said. "Those of us who have watched him on the back fields are encouraged with his progress."

Still, Kepler had virtually no meaningful baseball experience when he signed in 2009 at age 16. The Twins don't expect him to become a polished player—or even finish growing—for a few years.

"The stats and numbers don't mean anything at this point. It's more about how he becomes a pro—it's about survivability," Radcliff said. "Navigating the baseball life, on and off the field, that's all you can ask now."

To top it off, Kepler attended South Fort Myers High, across the street from the Twins' Florida headquarters. "He took advanced classes, and eventually got his degree by testing out," Radcliff said. "That's impressive for a kid trying to play pro ball, too."

Kepler is impressive in lots of ways, beginning with his fluency in three languages. He's also 6-foot-4 and fast, and in his first exposure to pro pitching he batted .286/.346/.343 in 37 games as one of the youngest players in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this summer.

"He has an unbelievably athletic body, and the makeup for success," Radcliff said. "He has so much to learn—taking leads, routes to fly balls, baserunning, cutoff throws. But he's got a pretty (lefthanded) swing, terrific bat speed and strength."

Kepler will return to the U.S. in January to begin workouts again, and give the Twins another glimpse of his potential.

"He could develop a lot of ways: as a high-average guy or a power hitter (or) maybe a doubles, gap-power guy. We just don't know yet," Radcliff said. "It's going to be fun to watch."

TWIN KILLINGS

• Though Double-A New Britain finished with the worst record in the minors, the Rock Cats featured the Twins' minor league player and pitcher of the year. Outfielder Joe Benson batted .259/.343/.538 with 27 homers and 19 steals, while righthander Kyle Gibson went 11-6, 2.96 with 126 strikeouts in 152 innings.

• Outfielder Jacque Jones, a 10-year veteran of the big leagues, spent the season with Triple-A Rochester and hit a home run in what may be his final pro game.