Last spring, the Campus Times interviewed rising Rochester Red Wings outfielder Max Kepler. As it turns out, Kepler was called up to play for the Minnesota Twins, and appeared in 113 games this season.

The 26-year-old had a solid season, hitting .235 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI. He even became one of only five Minnesota players to hit three home runs in a game, alongside the elite former Twins, including Harmon Killebrew and Justin Morneau.

At-bats were looking positive for Kepler early on as he started gaining some Rookie-of-the-Year consideration over the summer, but after mid-August, his numbers started to nosedive.

Over the last seven weeks of the regular season, the German-born Kepler struggled and hit .194, with only two home runs and around 40 strikeouts. While his inconsistency didn’t make for an ideal season, Kepler knows what he must accomplish moving forward, and expressed gratitude for being recognized as the Twins’ most outstanding rookie by the Twin Cities chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

These struggles do not seem to faze Kepler, as he commented after this past regular season  that it’s “not my job (to carry the team).” Slumps are to be expected.  

“I was trying to do the most just to get a win, and things weren’t working out,” he said in the same interview with the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. “Everyone has to play their part to win a ballgame.”

This type of thought should hopefully lighten the load and help Kepler relax at the plate, especially as he goes into his sophomore campaign.

Over a long, 162-game baseball season, long slumps come with the territory, as pitchers constantly expose hitters’ weaknesses, and hitters are always adjusting their swings accordingly.

Scouts raved about Kepler’s ability to make adjustments within each at-bat, including the fact that he is a solid line-drive hitter who can hit for power due to the topspin he produces.

Throughout the 2016 season, he worked closely with former hitting coach Tom Brunansky—and even had a long-lasting relationship with manager Paul Molitor—ever since he signed with the Twins at age 16.

This relationship is what convinced Molitor to stick with Kepler, even when the at-bats were ugly in August and September. He knew Kepler would eventually make the adjustments he needed.

Kepler’s plan for the 2016 offseason is to workout in Germany, Florida, and California, alongside right fielder Stephen Piscotty of the Cardinals, starting pitcher and current free agent Tyson Ross, and his brother and fellow right-hander Joe Ross of the Washington Nationals.

Although his strength lies in making adjustments mid-at-bat, the Twins’ outfielder admits that he had trouble adapting to breaking pitches and will continue to hone his skill set in these situations over the winter.

Still, the future looks bright for this former Red Wings hitter.

Tagged: Red Wings


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