Salt River has raced to the front of the pack in the Arizona Fall League thanks to a complete team effort. Seemingly in every game there is a new player leading the Rafters to victory in the desert.
Wednesday, it was Max Kepler's turn. The right fielder tripled and doubled, helping Salt River defeat Surprise, 9-2. With the victory, the Rafters improved to 10-3-1, becoming the first team to reach 10 wins this fall.
Kepler tripled to lead off the second inning and scored the game's first run three batters later when Evan Marzilli brought him home with a single. It was the start of a four-run inning for the Rafters, giving them a comfortable cushion.
Salt River added another run in the fourth and broke the game open with four more runs in the eighth. It was the second-most runs the Rafters have scored this season.
While Salt River hasn't produced overwhelming offensive numbers, Kepler said the key to its success has been the selfless way it approaches the game.
"We play together as a team," Kepler said. "Nobody seems to be focused on themselves, which is awesome because it scores runs."
Kepler, the Twins No. 19 prospect, finished the game 2-for-5 with a run. Marzilli, the Rafters left fielder, went 2-for-3 with a walk, three runs and two RBIs. Designated hitter Joe Sclafani added two hits and three RBIs.
The beneficiary of the Rafters' early lead was left-hander Jayson Aquino. He held the Saguaros to two runs on three hits and a walk in four innings. He struck out three batters and earned his second victory of the fall. Aquino was followed by five relievers, each of whom threw a hitless inning to finish the game.
Surprise scored its lone runs of the game in the third inning when Juan Perez hit a two-run home run off Aquino. The second baseman finished the game 1-for-3 with a walk. Third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean went 1-for-3 with a run, a walk and a stolen base.
Kepler is playing in the AFL for the second time. He hit .234/.306/.313 in 18 games as a 20-year old with Glendale last year. He was one of the youngest players in the league and had played just 61 games in full-season ball, all at Class A Cedar Rapids.
Kepler said he was too passive at the plate last year in the AFL. But after getting more experience and spending this season at Class A Advanced Fort Myers, he said he feels more comfortable this fall.
"Last year I kind of felt a little insecure facing some big names coming out of low A ball," Kepler said. "Now I know what to expect and I can be more aggressive. I wasn't really doing that in every at-bat last year."
Kepler's new approach has worked so far. He is hitting .286/.394/.393 in seven games this fall.
For Kepler, another change from last year is his position in the field. He was learning first base last fall, but has now returned to the outfield. After mostly playing center field for Fort Myers, Kepler has primarily played right field for Salt River.
As the fall continues and he gets more at-bats, Kepler said he is starting to see the ball better at the plate. Now he hopes to be able to use the rest of the season to work on his defense and baserunning.
"I want to keep my arm strong and accurate and stay fast on the basepaths," Kepler said. "At the plate, I want to stay aggressive and get after it."
Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.