Everybody knew that the Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A) had talent going into the season and winning the Southern League championship last night proved it.
So many young players that the Minnesota Twins are excited about played a part in the championship; outfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano were the two biggest names on the roster at the beginning of the season but the duo of MLBPipeline Top-10 prospects both graduated to the Major League level before the All-Star break. Relief pitcher Ryan O’Rourke, starting pitcher Tyler Duffey and shortstop Jorge Polanco each reached the big leagues in 2015 while starting pitcher Jose Berrios, the 21st-ranked prospect according to MLBPipeline, was called up to Triple-A after going 8-3 in 15 starts for the Lookouts.
With so many big names coming out of Chattanooga, 22-year old German prospect Max Kepler was sometimes overlooked, but that is no longer the case for the Southern League Player of the Year. Minnesota called up Kepler, who can play first base and all three outfield positions, after Chattanooga’s 4-0 win over the Biloxi Shuckers last night to clinch the league title, and he will be in uniform tonight when the Twins take on the Cleveland Indians in a series that is crucial to Minnesota’s playoff hopes.
While a number of top prospects came and went throughout the season, Kepler was a deserving recipient of the Player of the Year award. He slashed .322/.416/.531 while belting nine home runs and driving in 71. Speed is a big part of his game as he legged out 13 triples and stole 18 bases over 112 games. His strong season has pushed him up to 99th on the MLBPipeline Top 100 list; Kepler is also the fourth-ranked first base prospect league wide and the sixth-ranked prospect in the stacked Minnesota farm system.
European countries aren’t known for producing top baseball talent, but Kepler seems to be an exception. The Twins have been excited about him for years now, signing him at the age of 16 and paying him an $800,000 signing bonus, the largest ever given out to a European-born player.
Kepler was already on the 40-man roster, so no move had to be made in calling him up.
Kepler’s role on the Twins for the rest of this season is very much up in the air, and his call-up might be more of the organization rewarding him for a very successful season in the minors. The outfield is currently packed with talent to the point where Buxton, the top-overall prospect in baseball, is struggling to get consistent playing time. First base is being manned by Joe Mauer, who owns an irreplaceable .356 average with runners in scoring position this year, while Sano has forced himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation for his play at designated hitter.