Kirilloff's 2018 One for the Ages
Image courtesy of © Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsFast forward to where we are today, and Kirilloff is now a 20-year-old who’s missed a whole season of professional baseball thanks to a Tommy John surgery. While that reality seems damaging on paper, we know that the current situation couldn’t possibly be yielding better results. Despite not being a top five pick, despite missing his entire age 19 season, Kirilloff has taken the Twins farm system by storm and that only adds to the level of intrigue.
In advancing to the Florida State League Championship Series with a victory last night, the Fort Myers Miracle were again led by their slugging outfielder. Going 5-for-5 on the evening, Alex is now 7-for-9 in postseason play this season. The .778 average and 1.889 OPS are obviously reflective of just a two-game sample size, but his production down in Florida this year lets us know it isn’t a mirage.
On the season, Kirilloff spent exactly 65 games at each of Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Fort Myers. After posting a .333/.391/.607 line in Iowa, he graduated a level and performed even better. Slashing .362/.393/.550 for the Miracle, Kirilloff trumped all Florida State League hitters dating back to at least 2005. Brent Keys, a non-prospect taken in the 15th round, was the last hitter to record an average north of .345 over any relative level of games played. Big leaguers like Josh Bell, Christian Yelich, and Stephen Vogt all laid waste to the FSL competition, but none in the same vein as Kirilloff.
Now having completed just over a full big-league season’s worth of action in his pro career (185 games), he owns a .335/.377/.541 line. There are 27 homers to his credit (20 of which have come this season), and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is acceptable at what amounts to 0.5. In short, the bat-first prospect with plenty of need to develop has looked the part of an absolute menace. The contributions at the plate have been eye-popping, and it’s time to start speculating as to what’s next.
There’s plenty of reason to believe that Kirilloff could’ve handled Double-A pitching this year. Having already jumped a level, and with their respective seasons winding down however, it made sense for him to chase a ring with the Miracle. To kick off 2019, the expectation should be that he gets a ticket to Chattanooga and has a door knocker ready to hammer on the Twins. Realistically, something around a 100-game sample size could be telling enough for his prospects at the next level, and it’s in the leap to Double-A that the last looming questions remain.
While affiliate leagues all differ in their predictability, it’s genuinely accepted that Double-A is the final threshold when projecting a big-league future. Seeing pitchers with an ability to spin, rely on more than just their fastball, and having moved on from fringe organizational players, a strong showing there can provide the final assessment prior to blueprinting a big-league future.
At some point, the Twins will need to decide what Kirilloff is for them at the next level. Having made a home in right field on the farm, it appears his bat profile is plenty capable of being a corner outfielder. Minnesota should have one of those spots locked down by Eddie Rosario, but Max Kepler’s long-term viability remains a work in progress. Alex could be transitioned to be the heir at first base, but similarly talented prospect Brent Rooker may be a better fit there. Putting the horse a bit ahead of the cart here, there’s no doubt the stick will be accommodated.
You’d be far from crazy to suggest an MLB debut for Kirilloff in the season ahead. He could be a regular for Minnesota in 2020. Regardless of when he debuts though, it’s 2018 that should be a season to be remembered. This type of showing at the dish is one we are rarely privileged to see, and despite being overshadowed by the bat of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Kirilloff is currently in the same company when it comes to eye-popping results.
At some point down the road, once his big-league career is established and well under way, it’d be great to see major league production at similar heights. Obviously batting .360+ at the highest level would seem like a long shot, but a .900+ OPS power threat, with strong on-base skills, and an ability to avoid strikeouts would be something that any franchise would clamor for.
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