The start of a new year means everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions for 2023. One of the most common goals for a new year is finding ways to be healthier than the previous year. For the Minnesota Twins, health also likely ranks at the top of their priority list with the changing of the calendar. Not so much staying in shape, but rather that they can reduce the number of impactful injuries on their squad than the year before.
Twins fans have heard plenty about how injuries derailed the 2022 campaign. Most of Minnesota’s important pieces from last season had their season impacted or ended entirely by some significant injury. Whether it was just bad luck or not, the team made a change. The Twins let head trainer Michael Salazar go and hired Nick Paparesta away from the Oakland A’s, tasking him with trying to keep the Twins as healthy as possible in 2023 and beyond.
The number of injuries that plagued the Twins in 2022 was too much not to do something. But in some cases, it has been nagging injuries that put the Twins in a bad spot before last year began. For example, the San Diego Padres nearly traded starting pitcher Chris Paddack to the New York Mets last March before they sent him to Minnesota. They checked off on his medicals only weeks before Paddack would require Tommy John surgery five starts into the season.
Alex Kirilloff also probably has a New Year’s resolution to be healthier in 2023. Kirilloff has already had a tumultuous start to his big-league career. He has had a nagging right wrist injury that has impacted his swing, which could significantly alter his career if it doesn’t get back to 100 percent. There is plenty of potential that he can become an important left-handed power bat in this lineup for years to come. But for Kirilloff to become that fixture, he will need to keep his wrist healthy in 2023, which could already be an important season in his big-league career.
During his second big league season, Kirilloff was sidelined with a right wrist injury on April 13. The initial injury came in May of 2021 when his wrist caused him to miss action multiple times in his age-24 season. Before he hurt his wrist in early May, Kirilloff was batting .214/.227/.571 with four home runs in 12 games. He still finished the season with a .722 OPS and eight home runs in 59 games.
Surgery on his right wrist ended his season in July 2021. During the following offseason, his wrist issues threw a wrench into his offseason program, and he landed back on the IL by mid-April of 2022. Any batter will suffer a loss of production if he has significant pain in his wrist. In 2021, Kirilloff’s average exit velocity was 91 MPH before dipping to 89.3 MPH due to his wrist issues. Last year, Kirilloff’s season ended in August when he had surgery that shortened a bone in his wrist to create more space to relieve pain.
“I feel it a lot through the middle part of my swing, so that’s obviously a really important aspect to hitting,” Kirilloff said in August. “It’s a battle just trying to manage and get back to where you hope to be and where you were before.”
Kirilloff is a former top prospect, and it shows when he’s healthy. While rehabbing in Triple-A last season, Kirilloff slashed .385/.477/.725 with 10 home runs in the month he spent playing for St. Paul. He returned to the Twins on June 16. Over the next three weeks, he had an .854 OPS, three home runs, and 18 RBIs.
The Twins need some constant thump in the middle of their lineup outside of Byron Buxton and Jose Miranda. Losing Carlos Correa stings, but if Kirilloff emerges as the power hitter he’s capable of being, he can greatly improve the team’s chances next season as a left-handed bat who can hit the ball to all three parts of the field. Steamer predicts a bounce-back season for Kirrilloff. It predicts a .255/.315/.430 slash line with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs in 2023 through 87 games. Assuming his wrist is managed correctly, there’s no reason to think that Kirilloff couldn’t produce more than that for the Twins next season.
It’s tough to quantify how much of an impact Paparesta will have as the new head trainer, given that he will treat players behind closed doors. However, there is hope that the Twins will get a healthier Kirilloff in 2023. His wrist problems flared up last season, and the team opted to rest. The hope seemed to be that rest would be enough to keep his injury manageable. Now a new procedure, a new head trainer, and a more watchful eye by everyone involved should bring some optimism.
However, if his wrist issues continue, back-to-back frustrating seasons can damage a young player’s confidence and career trajectory. Patience should be shown for a player who is only 25 with a prospect pedigree like Kirilloff. But even after a tough offseason, the Twins are hoping to compete in 2023. Prospects like Matt Wallner, Trevor Larnach, and others must be in the lineup if they are playing better.
Based on last season, Kirilloff has shown that his ability makes any time sitting in St. Paul unwise. He’s too productive when healthy to be stuck in Triple-A. Keeping Kirilloff healthy likely will remove the biggest hurdle to him contributing to the Twins in a big way next season. Injuries wouldn’t be the fault of Kirilloff or even the new trainer. Like with Buxton, sometimes this stuff is out of everyone’s control.
The ball has dropped. The Twins are taking steps to keep the team healthier going into the new year. Kirilloff is one of the Twins who needs a healthy 2023 to show he belongs at the big league level. Who knows what Paparesta will bring as the new head trainer, but it feels like a step in the right direction.