Right now, the likes of Rob Refsnyder and Kyle Garlick are patrolling the outfield. But when the Minnesota Twins eventually get to full strength, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton will return to their respective positions.
While both Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff have impressed with their prowess while in the batter’s box, the logjam in the outfield would mean one of them would get fewer at-bats if they all stay in the outfield.
After a slow start, Kirilloff has lived up to the lofty expectations he had coming into the season. In his last 15 games, he has a batting average of .311 and a slugging percentage of .590, showing he’s capable of making an impact in the majors. The real surprise of this season has come from Larnach, Minnesota’s No. 3 prospect. While most people expect Larnach to see time in the bigs this early in the season, he has been forced into action and delivered.
Injuries to Buxton, Kepler, Jake Cave and Brent Rooker forced the former first-round draft pick to see substantial playing time early in the season. Before succumbing to a foot injury earlier this week, Larnach was hitting .237 with a .456 slugging percentage, four doubles, and three home runs. Even after Cave, Kepler, and Buxton return, Larnach has made a compelling case to stay up with his ability to adapt to the big league game after playing only three games at Triple-A. Larnach has also showcased his discipline at the plate along with his power, drawing 12 walks in just 20 games.
I previously made a case for selling high on Kepler to solve the log jam in the outfield, but I failed to factor in the defensive flexibility that he offers. Kepler has been an above-average right fielder throughout his career, but his ability to play center field when Buxton is out makes him integral to Minnesota’s defense. Kepler is also under team control until 2023 on a team-friendly contract.
The Twins are faced with a first-world problem. They will have to fit all four of these players into the starting lineup and get them enough at-bats to be productive. The answer might be to move Kirilloff to first base and start Larnach in left field.
Conventional wisdom had Kirilloff taking over the left-field spot that was left vacant after Eddie Rosario signed with the Cleveland Indians in free agency. Even though he didn’t make the opening day roster, the Twins may have been manipulating his service time while penciling him into the role later in the season. But recently, Larnach has taken over in left while Kirilloff has played right.
Larnach spent a majority of his time in the minors manning the right side of the outfield, but he has played 118 of his big-league 148 innings in left. While this might be due to Minnesota’s injury situation, it could also be a glimpse of what is to come in the future. Kirilloff has split the 16 games he’s played in the outfield equally, playing eight in right and eight in left. But he’s also played 10 games at first base.
While the sample size in all of these positions is relatively small, Kirilloff is minus-2 in total zone run fielding above average in left and minus-1 in right, putting him slightly below average compared to other fielders at this position. However, he is plus-2 in this category in 75 innings at 1st base with no errors.
Obviously, the sample size is far too small to say anything definite. But with how Baldelli has preferred Larnach in left and given Kepler’s above-average play in right, it would make sense to think about shifting Kirilloff to first base long term and have him serve as an emergency outfielder if needed.
While Miguel Sano has performed admirably in his switch from third base to first, his inconsistency with his hitting is troublesome at times. During stretches of the season, he can single-handedly carry the offense, but he looks like he couldn’t hit a meatball with a fork at other times. He is hitting .040 with a slugging percentage of .160 and 14 strikeouts to a single walk in his last seven games.
While getting rid of Sano might not be the answer, having him take over the DH spot after Nelson Cruz’s contract expires will allow Kirilloff more playing time and keep both him and Larnach in the lineup together. Given the promise that both of these younger players have shown at the plate, it would be foolish not to maximize the number of at-bats they see and make them potential cornerstones of the teams to come.