Alex Kirilloff's Injury Is Particularly Cruel

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Falvey gave an injury update over the weekend, which was mostly good news. Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco should be in the lineup for Opening Day. Nick Gordon suffered a high ankle sprain but could avoid the injury list to start the season. And José Miranda is making good progress with his shoulder.

But there was one particularly concerning piece of news. Alex Kirilloff is “probably the one that’s a little behind our schedule,” according to Falvey. Kirilloff has played well when healthy, hitting .251/.295/.398 in 387 plate appearances in his first two seasons. However, a season-ending wrist surgery ended his rookie season at 59 games. He played 45 games last season but suffered from a wrist injury again and had invasive surgery to try and permanently fix it.

Kirilloff likely has idiopathic ulnar impaction syndrome, meaning he suffers from ulnar-sided wrist pain and reduced wrist range of motion despite a lack of anatomical damage. His left-handed swing puts pressure on his abnormally long ulna in his right wrist, which is particularly painful. In 2021, he underwent surgery to separate a bone from his ulna. Last year, he likely had an osteotomy procedure to shorten the ulna. Fortunately, the procedure has worked well among the general population. However, there is a shortage of evidence among athletes.

That’s ominous for any player, but it’s particularly devastating for a prospect who seemed like a sure thing when the Twins took him 15th overall in 2016. Minnesota drafted him out of Plum High School in suburban Pittsburgh. However, he was home-schooled and maintained a routine that turned him into a baseball star. Kirilloff woke up between 8:00 and 9:00 am and studied until lunchtime. Then he would go to the field, take batting practice, and prepare for the game. Kirilloff was slashing .544/.645/1.000 with three homers in 19 games when the Twins picked him.

Former Twins scouting director Deron Johnson compared him to Christian Yelich on draft day. “The first thing is his swing,” he said. “He’s got a really good technical swing. He squares up every ball.” One draft evaluator gave the Twins an A and said he had the tools to become a perennial All-Star. His father Dave, a former Pittsburgh Pirates scout, had him hitting off a tee at 11 months old. “Baseball is something that was instilled in me by my dad at a very young age,” Kirilloff said on draft day. “My whole life, he’s owned an indoor training facility. So to have that accessible to me for any time I wanted to train has been great. It’s been a key part of my development.”

“Being in a family business of running an indoor facility for baseball and softball, he was always around it,” Dave Kirilloff told in 2016. “In his free time, he was hitting in the cages. We found, at a young age, he could play a couple of years ahead of his age. That’s where it formulated, and I was fortunate enough to have some travel teams where I could play him ahead of his years.”

Kirilloff played with 12-year-olds at age 8 and made varsity as a freshman. The Twins typically put rookie high schoolers in the Florida Gulf Coast League, but they started him in the more advanced Appalachian League. He hit .306/.341/.454 against players two-and-a-half years older than him. However, a partial ligament tear in his elbow limited him to 55 games that season, and he missed all of 2017 after having Tommy John surgery.

He bounced back, hitting .348/.392/.579 in High-A in 2018 and .283/.343/.413 in Double-A the following year. There was no minor league season in 2020 because of the pandemic, but Kirilloff debuted in Game 2 of the 2020 ALCS. He went 1-for-4 with a single against the Houston Astros, who eliminated the Twins. Except for his 65-game stint in Low-A, Kirilloff has always been at least two-and-a-half years younger than the league average.

Kirilloff was as locked in as any prospect. In 2016, he moved to Fort Myers with his wife, Jordan, and lives in a gated community near Hammond Stadium. He’s been hitting off a tee since he was a toddler, and his dad has an indoor batting practice facility. Kirilloff played varsity baseball as a freshman and tore through the low minors. He has also been productive in the majors. Kirilloff appeared to be steady as they come. He doesn’t tear the cover off the ball or play high on the defensive spectrum. But he always had a sweet swing and plate discipline.

It seems cruel that he’s suffering from a lingering injury that affects the best part of his game. He’s not the first Twins prospect to suffer a serious ailment. A meniscus tear limited Mauer’s rookie season to 35 games. Byron Buxton has only played 100 games once in his career. And Royce Lewis has torn his ACL twice. Still, it’s hard to see Kirilloff limited. He’s been a steady hitter for his entire life, but there’s not much he can do if his wrist won’t cooperate.

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