MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Twins have promoted one of their top hitting prospects from Double-A for the stretch drive.
Willkommen, Max Kepler.
Kepler joined the wild card-chasing Twins on Tuesday for their game against Cleveland, the day after the 22-year-old native of Germany helped lead Chattanooga to the Southern League championship. Following an emotional whirlwind of an evening that featured the familiar champagne showers with his teammates plus phone calls to his sister in Florida and his mother in Berlin, Kepler was at Target Field for orientation, batting practice and interviews.
''I was speechless, but at the same time I was about to cry,'' Kepler said, reflecting on his reception of the news from Chattanooga manager Doug Mientkiewicz. ''I don't cry much, but I almost teared up. I got to celebrate with my team last night, and it was amazing.''
Kepler batted .322 with 32 doubles, 13 triples, nine home runs and 71 RBIs in 112 games for Chattanooga, winning the league MVP award. With only 13 games left in the regular season and a crowd ahead of him in the outfield and at first base, Twins manager Paul Molitor won't play Kepler much at all.
''But I know he can run and I know he can play defense and I know that he can put together a good at-bat against right and left,'' Molitor said. ''I'd love to give him a chance to get exposed up here. I just can't predict how it's going to play out.''
Kepler was signed by the Twins in 2009 and moved as a senior in high school to Fort Myers, Florida, across the street from the team's minor league and spring training headquarters. His English is flawless, with hardly even a hint of an accent.
He's still a proud German, though, with his parents living in Berlin. He typically returns around Christmas time and often conducts youth clinics to help teach kids about a game that's largely overshadowed in popularity by soccer and even basketball. According to data on the website baseball-reference.com, there have been 42 major league players born in Germany, though several of those were Americans born on military bases there.
''It's growing. I'm just doing my best to have it evolve over there,'' Kepler said. ''I've already heard that everybody in Berlin's happy for me, when they woke up and saw the news. I'm trying to get transfer from soccer to play baseball overseas.''
Kepler's father is a ballet school director, currently on the road on a scouting trip. But his mother was expected to make it to the ballpark in time for the game. His sister, too.
The Twins also summoned Class A Cedar Rapids manager Jake Mauer, the older brother of first baseman Joe Mauer, to join the coaching staff for the rest of the season.