Berlin-born Max Kepler enjoying early success with Chattanooga Lookouts

Berlin-born Max Kepler enjoying early success with Chattanooga Lookouts

May 12th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Chattanooga Lookouts' first baseman Max Kepler (40) picks off the Jackson Generals' Tyler Smith (7) while playing at the Lookouts home field in Chattanooga on Friday, May 8, 2015.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

“He can do everything you want. He can run. He can throw. He can hit for power."”
Doug Mientkiewicz, Lookouts manager

There have been multitudes of Chattanooga Lookouts in recent seasons who have spoken English and Spanish.

Now the Lookouts have someone who can relate in English, Polish and German.

Max Kepler was born in Germany and lived there until 2010, when he began a promising professional baseball career in the Minnesota Twins organization. The 6-foot-4, 207-pounder entered Monday night's series opener in Birmingham having produced 15 hits in his first 14 games with the Lookouts and a .278 average.

"He's got a tremendous upside," Lookouts manager Doug Mientkiewicz said this past weekend. "His ability is through the roof. We signed Max when he was like 16, and he's come a long way since the days when we first drafted him. He can do everything you want. He can run. He can throw. He can hit for power.

Chattanooga Lookouts' Max Kepler (40) bats against the Jackson Generals while playing at the Lookouts home field in Chattanooga on Friday, May 8, 2015.

Chattanooga Lookouts' Max Kepler (40) bats against the...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

"We want to see him be more consistent, but that's the case with every one of our guys. He definitely has a high ceiling."

Kepler entered Monday with two doubles, three triples, two RBIs and three stolen bases for 2015, but how did this left-handed talent get from there to here?

He was born Maximilian Kepler-Rozycki to parents who met as ballet dancers in Berlin. His father, Marek Rozycki, had defected from Poland as an 18-year-old. Kepler grew up playing baseball and soccer and enjoyed swimming and skiing, and he received a scholarship to the Steffi Graf Tennis Foundation in Berlin.

His baseball career began as a 6-year-old at John F. Kennedy School, which is a German-American School that had a Little League program.

"I played baseball because I loved it, and it was the same with soccer and the other sports I was playing at the time," Kepler said. "When I was 16, someone said the word 'scout' around me, and I was like, 'What do they do?' I saw a future there and pursued it, and that's when I gave up soccer for baseball."

On July 11, 2009, the 16-year-old Kepler was signed by Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff, giving him the opportunity he never thought was possible.

"Growing up, I was always a fan of Josh Hamilton," he said. "I liked Ken Griffey Jr. even further back. He had that great swing, and even though I never played in the infield much, I always loved Derek Jeter.

"I had a pair of pinstripe pants that I wore for so many years that I had to cut them at the bottom because they got so tight on me, but I didn't want to give them up."

Another German-born player to make his way through baseball's ranks is Donald Lutz, who played 62 total games with the Cincinnati Reds during the 20013 and '14 seasons. He was a first baseman with the Reds in Triple-A Louisville this season but recently underwent Tommy John surgery.

Kepler's pro career began in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, and he spent the 2011 and '12 seasons in Rookie ball with Elizabethton (Tenn). In 2012, he hit .297 and racked up 49 RBIs in 59 games.

His 2013 season was spent in the Single-A Midwest League with Cedar Rapids (Iowa), and he played last year at high-Single-A Fort Myers in the Florida State League. In 102 games with the Miracle a year ago, Kepler hit .264 with 59 RBIs, and he batte .314 with 16 RBIs in August.

In the series this past weekend at AT&T Field against Jackson, Kepler made multiple starts in left field and at first base.

"He's a really good center fielder, too, and the thing about minor league baseball is that you better have a second or third position," Mientkiewicz said. "When you get to the big leagues, there might be an eight-year veteran in your way. He can play all three outfield spots and can spot start at first, and we want to keep getting him more confident in his ability, because he can flat out hit."

Said Kepler: "I'll play any position they put me. Whatever gets me moving up the ladder."

Kepler entered Monday night having yet to hit a home run this season, and he had only five homers last year. He knows he has come a long way since Berlin but must do more for further advancement.

"I've been told I need more power, but I think I'm seeing the ball well now, and I think that will come on its own," said Kepler, who resides in Fort Myers but visits Berlin every Christmas. "I just appreciate everything that has been given to me, and I love listening to everything that is thrown at me."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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