Alex Kirilloff was supposed to be a key part of the Minnesota Twins’ future. The 15th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft tore through the minors, and the Twins placed him on their playoff roster at the end of the 2020 season. When they non-tendered Eddie Rosario the following offseason, Kirilloff was the heir apparent in left field.
But things haven’t gone as planned.
After injuring his wrist in 2021, Kirilloff started 5-for-29 at the plate this season. This year, he required some time on the injured list because of his lingering wrist injury. Ultimately, the Twins sent him to Triple-A to regain his confidence.
However, if the Twins wanted Kirilloff to hit his way out of St. Paul, he’s certainly accomplished that objective. He’s hit .355/.455/.628 with nine homers in 32 games with the Saints. But if that’s the case, why haven’t the Twins called him up?
One of the biggest reasons Kirilloff struggled was his lack of patience at the plate. In parts of five seasons in the minors, he posted a 7.2 percent walk rate. That number shrunk to 5.7 percent over 263 plate appearances in the major leagues. While Kirilloff’s walks decreased, his strikeout rate went up, going from 16.2 percent in the minors to 24.3 with the Twins.
Kirilloff was unable to get his bat on the ball. During his rookie season, Kirilloff could barrel up 12.8 percent of the time. Still, he hadn’t squared anything up in 130 pitches this season. That became an issue, and his average exit velocity dropped from 91 mph in 2021 to 86.7 mph this year.
A prospect with Kirilloff’s pedigree could have scoffed at the assignment, but he’s used it as motivation to smash the cover off the ball. Over his past 14 games, Kirilloff has been playing on rookie mode, hitting .411 with an absurd .929 slugging percentage. While MiLB doesn’t have the same Statcast model used in the major leagues, it’s safe to assume that Kirilloff has found a way to square up at the plate and is using that approach to increase his exit velocity.
So, if the Twins were concerned about his patience at the plate and his ability to square up, why isn’t he back in Minnesota?
It could be that this team doesn’t have a spot for him.
Trevor Larnach has taken over Kirilloff’s primary spot in left field. While Larnach has cooled off recently, he’s still tied for second on the team in wins above replacement (WAR). With his defense leading the way, Larnach has become a better fit in his current position. Therefore, Kirilloff could have his eyes set on first base, given that he has no experience in center field.
But then what happens to Luis Arraez? The utility man has taken to first base and is having the best season of this career. With a .359 average that leads the American League and a 1.9 WAR that is tied with Byron Buxton for the team lead, there’s no way that Rocco Baldelli would think about taking him out of the lineup.
Things become even more crowded when Miguel Sanó returns from his knee injury. Although Kirilloff’s performance could convince the Twins to move on from Sanó, Minnesota isn’t about to eat $9.25 million in salary to cut him loose. That leaves Kirilloff stuck in St. Paul.
Just as Kirilloff could become trade fodder, there is a way he can help the team. If the Twins are looking for additional depth, they could use Kirilloff as a platoon player and a corner outfielder.
During the season’s opening months, the Twins have opted to use Kyle Garlick in this role because of his ability to smash lefties. In 32 at-bats against left-handers, Garlick is hitting .313/.395/.781 with five homers. However, Garlick’s health has been an issue. He has been on and off the injured list over the past two seasons.
For as good as Garlick has been against left-handers, Kirilloff has been even better, hitting .375/.444/.708 with four homers in 48 at-bats. Kirilloff’s success against left-handers has continued in the majors, hitting .260/.296/.429 and three homers in 77 at-bats.
Kirilloff is a more well-rounded hitter, which could open the door for a role in the majors. But the Twins would either have to move on from Garlick or trade a core player.
No matter what the Twins decide, Kirilloff is deserving of a call-up. There’s a good chance he’ll make his way to Minneapolis in the coming weeks. But until there is an opening for him, the 24-year-old will simply have to wait his turn.