Alex Kirilloff Is Minnesota's Silent Protagonist

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Kirilloff sat surrounded by family and friends when the Minnesota Twins took him 15th overall on June 10, 2016. Most players have company over on draft day, but it was notable in Kirilloff’s case, given the circumstances. Major League Baseball invited him to Secaucus, NJ, for the draft, but he had a playoff game that day. Dave Kirilloff was among the people at the draft party – his father and hitting coach. And teams had questions about how Alex Kirilloff’s unique upbringing. He played at Plum High School in suburban Pittsburgh but took courses via an online charter school so he could focus on baseball.

“Some of the questions,” he told the Star Tribune, “were about how I interact with people.”

By all accounts, Kirilloff is a good teammate and well-liked in the clubhouse. However, his personality is more like Joe Mauer‘s or Justin Morneau’s than Torii Hunter’s. The Steel City stoic doesn’t have Royce Lewis’ radiant personality or Brooks Lee’s bravado. But he’s become a lynchpin in a lineup that often looks lost. Surrounded by right-handed hitters who strike out frequently, Kirilloff is a left-handed contact hitter who gives the Twins a professional at-bat every time he’s at the plate.

The Twins need more left-handed bats when they face right-handed pitchers. All but the best right-handed hitters struggle against righties, and Jorge Polanco, Joey Gallo, Max Kepler, and Trevor Larnach are all injured. But handedness is far from Minnesota’s only issue at the plate. Carlos Correa has a sub-100 OPS+, and they sent José Miranda down after a slow start. Still, they face the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros in their next two series and will continue to struggle against right-handed pitching until those players get healthy. Hence, Kirilloff is filling a major hole in the lineup.

Kirilloff is part of Terry Ryan’s final draft class. The Twins took four high school hitters with their first four picks in 2016, including Miranda with pick 73. Their 56th overall pick that year, Ben Rortvedt, debuted in 2021; Minnesota included him in the Josh Donaldson trade. They took Akil Baddoo immediately after Miranda with the 74th pick, but the Detroit Tigers grabbed Baddoo in the Rule 5 draft three years ago. He had a strong rookie season, took a step back last year, and is a league-average hitter this season. Ultimately, it was a relatively successful draft, but Kirilloff has been the best player by a significant margin.

After debuting in the 2020 playoffs, Kirilloff looked like he’d be a staple in Minnesota’s lineup for the next 15 years. He hit .251/.295/.398 in his first two seasons but only played in 104 games because of a recurring wrist injury. Kirilloff has undergone two surgeries on his right wrist, alleviating the pain. However, he always has to build his swing back up after missing time. Kirilloff spent time in the cage working on his timing before returning, and he’s still monitoring the number of swings he takes and their intensity. His work has paid off, though. Kirilloff is hitting .283/.377/.509 in 17 games this year.

The Twins will take any offense they can get right now. But it’s especially important that they’re getting it from Kirilloff, a left-handed hitter. Rocco Baldelli will hit Kirilloff leadoff and also puts him in the middle of the order. He isn’t a power hitter like Polanco, Gallo, or Larnach. But Kirilloff has a good grasp of the strike zone, takes walks, and doesn’t strike out often. He’s the profile of a hitter that the Twins are missing after trading Luis Arraez to the Miami Marlins. Kirilloff also has room to grow. He’s only 25, meaning he is about to hit his prime.

There’s nothing like hearing the sound of Gallo’s bat when he connects on a ball, Kepler showed power potential in 2019, and Larnach can tear the cover off a fastball. But Gallo strikes out often, Kepler hasn’t been able to replicate his Bomba Squad numbers, and Larnach struggles to hit off-speed pitches. Kirilloff looks every bit the part of the son of a former scout who grew up hitting in his father’s baseball facility. He offers consistency in a lineup that needs it. He’s a left-handed bat amongst a sea of righties.

So long as Kirilloff doesn’t continue to suffer from the wrist injury that has plagued him throughout his career, he’s capable of being one of Minnesota’s most reliable hitters. There’s nothing flashy about him and his game. He’s not going to be known for web gems in the field, his home run swing doesn’t create a sonic boom, and he’s not the biggest personality in the room. But he’s exactly what the Twins need right now. Kirilloff is the steady hand in a lineup that’s flailing. His hitting ability speaks for itself.

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