Kepler Drawing Scouts To Europe
Teams invest the majority of their international scouting budgets into evaluating young ballplayers in Latin America. But if Europe keeps producing prospects like Max Kepler, teams might have to shift the way they allocate their resources.
Kepler, a 16-year-old center fielder from Germany, is the best prospect from Europe this year and, according to some scouts, one of the continent's best prospects in several years. Kepler is 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, with some scouts projecting him to have five average or better tools in the future. He will be eligible to sign with a major league team when the international signing period begins on Thursday.
"There have been some good players to come out of Europe, but I think the thing that Max has going for him is that he's 16, but he plays like he's older," said Georgia State coach Greg Frady, who has also coached the German national team the last six years. "His mechanics look like he's older. He's so fluid in the things that he does and he looks a lot more polished than the average 16-year-old in Europe."
The lefthanded Kepler has a fluid swing, a plus arm and a tick above-average speed, though scouts expect him to be an average runner and grow into more power once he fills out his frame. Like many players his age and size, Kepler's swing still tends to get long, which scouts say leaves him occasionally susceptible to good fastballs on the inner half. But the overall skill set has drawn interest from several clubs. The Red Sox (righthander Jennell Hudson), Reds (first baseman Donald Lutz) and Mets (catcher Kai Gronauer) have all signed German prospects in recent years and are believed to have interest in Kepler.
"His body has matured, even though he's not anywhere near maturity," Frady said. "His body's frame is so big, you can tell he's going to hold a lot more weight, a lot more muscle. Everything is there for a 16-year-old player to be a really good, athletic man. You can just see it in his body. He's emerged in the last two to three years with his throwing, his size, his fluidness—everything is together. A lot of time you see a 13- or 14-year-old boy and he's really growing during that time and he's gawky, he's uncoordinated, it takes time. Max is not in that classification right now. Everything he does is smooth and easy."
Kepler, whose mother was born in the United States, already speaks fluent English. While that lack of a language barrier might ease the cultural assimilation for Kepler when he begins his pro career, Frady still preaches patience in development for whichever team ultimately signs Kepler.
"Max, I would say 15 years ago, would have been one of the top players in the country at 16 years old," Frady said. "Right now, there are a lot of older players that are more advanced and mature in the way of playing older baseball than Max. We even considered putting Max on the senior national team even as a 16-year-old. Now, I think he would have been a little bit overmatched right now, but basically that's the greatest compliment I can give him right now. He's getting senior national team consideration as a 16-year-old—that's pretty good."