And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.
— Colossians 3:23, as written on Kirilloff’s Twitter feed
Most athletes that are drafted in the first round, no matter what sport, have precocious ability by definition. It’s why they were picked so high and given life-changing money: They were way better than their competition in high school.
Alex Kirilloff, the Minnesota Twins first-round pick this year, was practically a man among boys growing up in New Kensington, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. “He’s got good size, he’s 6’2″, about 200 pounds,” said Twins general manager Terry Ryan, “So he’s a complete package, and we think he has a chance to be a pretty good player as he progresses through the system.”
As a testament to his advanced ability, the Twins are sending him to Elizabethton, Tn., their highest rookie league affiliate. It is where college rookies are typically assigned, meaning Kirilloff, who will be 18 throughout the season there, will be playing against 21- and 22-year-old players.
“We don’t start high school guys in Elizabethton unless we think they’re a little bit more advanced”
“We don’t start high school guys in Elizabethton unless we think they’re a little bit more advanced,” said Ryan. “That’s a pretty good testament to his ability, and where he is as a player. We think he can handle Elizabethton.”
There was audible nervous laughter when Ryan pointed out that Kirilloff will be playing against players three years older than him. His father, Dave, who owns Baseball 19 University, a training facility in the Pittsburgh Mills Mall, as well as his agent, Jeff Randazzo, and mother and sister were sitting in the room with him as he was interviewed.
Still, this is a player who Minnesota Twins scouting director Deron Johnson compared to current Twin Max Kepler with “more thump” or Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins. “They’re similar comps,” said Johnson. “They have similar swings.”
“I’ve had a lot of Grady Sizemore comps before, and being in Pittsburgh, I like watching Andrew McCutchen,” said Kirilloff. “He’s a pretty well-rounded player as well. On top of that, he handles himself well on and off the field, so I look up to both of those guys.”
Cold Omaha’s Brandon Warne has a complete breakdown of Kirilloff from draft day with video and quotes from Johnson, which you should read if you haven’t already, but basically Minnesota feels this guy is a complete player — or as complete as you can be at age 18.
“He’s a really good defensive first baseman,” said Johnson. “He’s got really good hands. He moves well. He’s really smooth. He can throw. Me personally? I wouldn’t want to pigeonhole a guy at that position. He’s a really good athlete as well. He’s a better runner underway; he doesn’t get out of the box well. He’s probably a plus runner. He’ll play the outfield for us for sure.”
“I’ve played a lot of places in the middle of nowhere where I have no idea where I am”
If Elizabethton sounds remote, especially for a player who grew up near a big league town like Pittsburgh, it’s of no concern to Kirilloff. “From a young age, with playing for my dad’s teams and everything, I’ve already gone to tournaments across country, across the state,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of places in the middle of nowhere where I have no idea where I am, it’s just baseball and you’re on the field, so that’s all that really matters.”
For what it’s worth, he acts and sounds like a young adult that is ready to move away from home and compete at the next level. Not only does he look older than he is, but he’s well-spoken and self-assured without coming off as cocky or irrationally confident.
“We did our work with him; he’s a mature guy,” said Johnson. “He gets along well with his teammates. He’s a very mature kid.”
Kirilloff was home-schooled during his elementary years, which Ryan says was not a concern for the team.
“I think we pay particularly close attention to those players that are home-schooled to see how they do interact and see how they handle pressure and see what kind of teammate they are and what kind of competitive juice they have,” Ryan told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, who did a feature on Kirilloff’s upbringing.
“When I hear about ‘home-schooled,’ it catches my ear, and I know it does our (draft) room up there because they’re saying, ‘OK, how does this guy go out in the world and what is he like when he gets around 20 other guys and what is it like when he has to produce under pressure?’”
He was taught by his parents early in his educational experience before spending five years at Cheswick Christian Academy and playing for Plum High School. He is deeply religious, and the verse on his Twitter feed from Colossians 3:23 indicates that he will work whole-heartedly towards his goal, using abilities that few are blessed with to fulfill his projection as a complete player.
“I’m excited to be apart of it here someday,” he said, “and ready to start playing.”