Entering Tuesday’s game in Houston, Max Kepler is hitting .225/.317/.418 with 18 homers. He’s durable, walking more – 58 times, and flashes power, but the outfielder hasn’t taken the big step forward many of us expected in 2018.
It’s basically Kepler’s third, full big league season and he’s only 25, but it’s hard not wonder if this is it for him. Is Kepler the finished product? Whatever the case, Kepler has been far more productive than Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano this year.
The “Twin from Berlin” and I chatted late last month.
DZ: (The) season’s kind of winding down…Maybe it didn’t go exactly how you planned, but what’s the biggest difference with the team, this year and this time of last year? What’s the feel?
KEPLER: It feels great right now. I don’t think we’re too concerned about the result. We traded away a couple of players and so I’d say we’re in somewhat of a rebuilding phase. Now it’s just time to focus on us, our team, and actually grow together and start to understand how each and every one of our teammates works. Try and make the most of just building chemistry of what the group we have. Right now, I think we’ve been doing a phenomenal job, battling every game, and just working with what we have. Results are results but we come here every day and try and just give our teammates the best shot to perform at their best.
DZ: When all the new players come in from the trades and everything, does that give more energy and freshness to the team?
KEPLER: First, you are thrown off because you lose players, but it’s always cool meeting new guys. Just seeing the type of person they are on and off the field. Immediately, you know you like to try to grow closer to these people. This is who I’m going to be working with in the future so you want to make the most out of it. Understand how they work when they’re not doing well. How to pick them up. When they’re doing well, everyone’s having a great day and life’s easy. But I think most important is how to pick each other up when someone is down. That’s most important. It’s tough losing guys. It’s nice to meet new guys. But it kind of reminds you that it’s a business.
DZ: You got Brian Dozier who’s been here for a long time. Longer than you have obviously, and such a big star player and team leader. How long does it take just for it to set in that he’s not here anymore?
KEPLER: Yeah, it’s tough. I’m still following him and (Eduardo) Escobar, the guys that I played with a couple of years. But it is what it is. They’re gone and I wish the best for them. Definitely, the short time after they got traded away, you miss them in the clubhouse, you miss sitting next to them during a meal in the cafeteria or whatever, and just having their presence around.
DZ: I remember last year you talked a little bit about struggling with left-handed pitching and said, it kind of got in your head from hearing about it so much. This year, you’re hitting lefties better but you’re right-handed….numbers are down a little bit. Is that just kind of the same thing, just kind of a fluke or how do you explain that?
KEPLER: I’m going to keep putting the ball in play and that’s all I can do. I heard someone brought up the fun fact that I have the lowest batting average on balls put in play in the week. I guess, luck’s not on my side this year. That’s baseball. It’s a very humbling sport. You just can do everything right and you still get sent back to the bench to sit down and wait for your next turn. All I want to do is just put the ball in play and that’s all I can do.
DZ: Cool. Looking back to last year when you guys were in the playoff race, what did you learn from that?
KEPLER: From playing the wild card?
DZ: Yeah, the whole last month or so.
KEPLER: I’ve learned that that’s where you want to get to. Something that is stuck, I think, in all of our heads, whoever got to experience that that’s just a step closer to that major goal that we all have. I wouldn’t say it’s far away, but task is to focus just on the present right now. Know that you know we got a little taste of it and we crave that.
DZ: Is it more real now after you had that taste of it?
KEPLER: Yeah, most definitely. It was an amazing experience. The atmosphere; Yankee Stadium. Just having that. I’ve never experienced that much energy in a stadium, in a team. It was awesome to experience all the different emotions that flowed through each and everyone of the players on my team. That’s what we live for.
DZ: Just one last thing. How about the World Cup? Do you follow soccer closely? What was your take on that?
KEPLER: I think that German team didn’t play well together. They had some guys that didn’t play the game hard enough. I think they were a little — you win the World Cup and you look back and you see that the last guys that won the World Cup didn’t make it past the first round. Italy didn’t qualify. I don’t remember the other team but you win the World Cup, you win the World Series, it can be normal. You get full of yourself and a little too high on the success. You’re not as hungry to win. I think, that was their case. It was a little embarrassing but there’s always the next World Cup in four years.
See more of David Zingler’s 2018 player interviews:
September 1: Tyler Austin
August 28: Oliver Drake
August 25: Trevor May
July 26: Lindsay Whalen
June 29: Tanisha Wright
June 8: Logan Morrison
June 4: Mitch Garver
April 17: Brian Dozier
April 15: Ryan LaMarre
April 14: Addison Reed
January 27: Chip Lohmiller