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If the Twins are going to back-up their surprising first half with a legitimate playoff push in the second half, they are going to need a bigger contribution from Max Kepler. So far in 2017, “The Twin from Berlin” has hit .266/.337/.451 with 10 homeruns and an OPS+ of 108 (100 is average). Those are decent numbers, but not the star level production Twins fans and the organization had hoped for.
The 24-year-old righfielder and I chatted before the All Star break last week.
DZ: We are basically half way through the season right now. How would you assess it from a team and individual standpoint?
KEPLER: Great, so far. We have come a long way from last year. I wouldn’t say that was expected because it’s always a process, bouncing back from a rough season. I think we have made huge progress and the vibes are great. Good so far.
DZ: What would you say is the biggest difference from last year?
KEPLER: Like I said, the vibes are always positive regardless of the results. We are always picking each other up. Last year, you could tell who was down and nobody really did anything about it.
DZ: Do you think it’s because there are different players involved or a new vibe with the new guys running the organization?
KEPLER: I think it’s just will power to have success this year. It feels more like a group than last year. We are working as a unit.
DZ: What’s it like being here on opening day and being a starter and contributor all year (for the first time)?
KEPLER: It’s great (laughs). I can’t complain. It’s a blessing.
DZ: From the outside looking in, baseball is a streaky sport. I’ve noticed that when you are hot, you are really hot and other times there are slumps. Is that one of the biggest challenges for you, to be more consistent?
KEPLER: Yeah. I wouldn’t chose to be a different type of player. Consistency is something that we all work on. It’s harder to maintain that in this sport, compared to any other sport. In every other ball sport, you are in control of what you do. As opposed to baseball, where someone else (the pitcher) is in control of what you are trying to be successful at. Someone is throwing the ball at you and having an impact of what your performance will be…. Obviously, the consistency is going to be harder, but the main thing I want to work on is being mentally strong and come out every day with the same positivity and belief that I can perform my best.
DZ: What do you think you learned the most from your rookie year last year?
KEPLER: Dealing with failure. The second half of the season really got to me. Mentally, physically, I was feeling a little worn out. Just didn’t bounce back well from it. This offseason, I prepared more mentally. I worked with mental coaches. Physically, I figured out a better way to pace myself. I was just going all out every day. I was playing off of adrenaline and ended up running on fumes because I was so excited to give it my best shot every day.
DZ: Do you talk to Joe Mauer much about hitting?
KEPLER: Yeah, here and there. He’s a freak of nature. The way he attacks the baseball is hard to do. Just to focus on going oppo (opposite field), doesn’t work for each player. I take a few things of his and make the best out of them, but I think he’s one of a kind. The stuff he does at the plate is unbelievable. He’s the only one who can really do it. I take a lot of things from him, when I am down especially. When I am hitting lefties, I ask him what I can do and usually he touches on mental aspects of it.
Before I came to pro ball, I say this a lot, I never could have cared less, what angle – if it’s a lefty or righty, side armers, submariner, over-the-top – I could care less where the ball was coming from. I got here and I feel like everything that surrounded lefties was always talked about how “Lefties hitting lefties is so much harder.” It’s a mental thing now that I have to get rid of because I never had an issue with it before people started talking about it a lot.
DZ: So, it kind of got into your head from hearing about it so much?
KEPLER: I let it get into my head. And I know that a lot of players do allow it to get into their head. It’s shouldn’t because it’s just like a righties facing righties you know. It shouldn’t.
DZ: Let’s go back to when you signed the Twins in ’09. Did you have a lot of other offers?
KEPLER: Yeah, about 15 teams.
DZ: Why did you sign with the Twins…?
KEPLER: I heard a lot of great stuff about the organization. I had a teammate, Rodney Gessman, a pitcher from Germany back in ’08. This organization, compared to every other organization, works with every player, not just the players that signed for the big bucks. They actually invest in whoever you are, wherever you come from. Being from Europe, I thought that was the best option for me.
DZ: Your parents are both ballerinas…does that have anything to do with your footwork and why your coordination is so good?
KEPLER: I played soccer, tennis and I think it had some correlation with baseball. My parents knew all of the keys to recovery, getting ready for games. At a young age, I think I was more advanced than a lot of kids out there. Just thanks to them.
DZ: Are you a fan of ballet?
KEPLER: I love watching it, yeah. Never really partook in it because I was too tall and not flexible enough. It’s awesome to watch.
DZ: One last thing, I noticed that you wear Adidas (shoes). And since you are from Germany, is it required that you wear Adidas (laughs).
KEPLER: No (laughs). They have been after me since day one. I went with Under Armour in the beginning. But, yeah, I guess they finally got to me. Now, I am going with the German brand.
See more of David Zingler’s 2017 player interviews:
May 31: Tyler Duffy
May 26: Taylor Rogers
May 20: Mike Redmond
May 13: Justin Haley
May 11: Craig Breslow
May 5: Chris Gimenez
February 17: Cole Aldrich