Max Kepler-Rozycki, 16, has just received an $800,000 bonus to sign with the Minnesota Twins, a stunning sum for a teenager out of Europe and a record for an amateur position player outside the U.S. and Latin America. Officials from a dozen Major League teams, including the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs, came to Berlin this year to check out the 6-foot-3, 190-pound outfielder. They compare his compact, graceful swing to that of Shawn Green, who retired in 2007 with 328 home runs. Scouts say Mr. Kepler-Rozycki possesses baseball’s five “tools”—speed, arm strength, glovework and the ability to hit for both power and average.
But the reason the Twins are betting long on a kid who is still two years away from his high school graduation is another pair of attributes scouts talk about, both inherited from his parents, former Berlin ballet stars. The first is genetics. Two athletes usually beget talented kids. The left-handed Max is so naturally coordinated he can hit a golf ball 250 yards—right-handed.
The second is “makeup”—a mix of discipline, attitude, confidence, seriousness and stage presence that allows players under the spotlight in a technically difficult sport like baseball to adjust to tougher and tougher competition. Makeup leads the chosen to the top. Its absence chops down the insanely talented athletes they’re up against. Scouts say signing players who have it is a smart way to play the odds.