Twins 2021 Position Analysis: Left Field
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsProjected Starter: Alex Kirilloff
Likely Backup: Jake Cave
Depth: Luis Arráez, Brent Rooker
Prospects: Trevor Larnach, Matt Wallner
The Twins lost a pair of quality players in Eddie Rosario and LaMonte Wade Jr., but still have no shortage of corner-outfield depth. Jake Cave is still around. Brent Rooker stepped in last year and showed his potent ability. Waiver pickup Kyle Garlick and non-roster invite Keon Broxton are making strong early impressions in camp. Top prospects Trevor Larnach and Matt Wallner aren't too far off.
But all of these names are secondary to THE top prospect, Alex Kirilloff, who is unquestionably on deck in left field. The Twins may opt to delay his arrival for a bit, but it's inevitable.
Once he's here, Kirilloff will very likely be sticking for good.
The Twins left no doubt as to their belief in his readiness, when they called up Kirilloff last September to make his major-league debut in a postseason elimination game. The 22-year-old rose to the occasion with a ringing single and a diving catch in right field.
When recently naming Kirilloff Twins Daily's No. 1 prospect, we listed off the many strengths that paint him as an immediate impact player. He's got a finely tuned swing and extremely advanced approach at the plate. He's strong, quick, and adaptive. While it's easy to fall into hyperbole and exaggerated expectations for a premium prospect of this caliber, it really does feel like his predecessor Rosario's career slash line – .277/.310/.478 – will eventually be Kirilloff's floor on a year-to-year basis. His ceiling is somewhere in Christian Yelich territory.
Kirilloff is gonna hit in the majors, and maybe right away. The question is when he will get his chance. The Twins stand to gain an extra year of control over the outfielder (his age-29 season) by waiting until late-April at least to call him up. Although Dan Hayes of The Athletic has reported that "the Twins are open-minded to promoting Kirilloff if he’s the best option," that's a very subjective "if." Given his lack of experience in the high minors, it's not a huge leap to say Kirilloff could use a bit more time – especially with the number of solid options on hand to serve as interim fill-ins.
The Twins could, say, platoon Cave and Garlick or Rooker for three weeks and have a perfectly adequate setup in left field. Or they could start Arráez out there regularly if the infield is healthy. (Though they don't seem inclined to do so.)
Like I said, no shortage of depth. And while that may or may not cost Kirilloff his chance to break camp with the Twins, it's a very good sign for the outlook of left field as a position.
It should be noted that left field is a relatively unfamiliar assignment for Kirilloff. Of his 2,077 professional innings played in the field as a professional, only 78 have been in left. He's made nine starts there compared to 181 in right and 35 at first base. In fact, he's made more career starts in center field (14) than in left.
Kirilloff's lone major-league start came in right field. Whenever he first jogs out down the third base line toward Target Field's home run porch this year, it'll be very unfamiliar territory.
The variances between baseball's two corner-outfield positions are not night-and-day, but also not insignificant. There's a learning curve involved with playing on the opposite side regularly, and also, there's a reason Kirilloff has played primarily in right: it's his better position.
With limited mobility and a good arm (albeit less good after Tommy John surgery), he profiles much better in right, or at first base. Kirilloff should be just fine in left, and Rosario hardly set a lofty standard, but this doesn't quite fit the front office's grand overall defensive vision.
Also, when you're a so-so defensive left fielder, the offensive bar is pretty high. Confident as I am in his abilities, it can't be assumed Kirilloff will flourish right off the bat. Even Yelich, whose name I generously invoked earlier as a high-end comp, took several years in the majors to become a truly special hitter.
Expectations should be kept in check for left field in 2021. Kirilloff might step in and take off, but there's a better chance he'll experience the same slumps and setbacks of any MLB rookie, and maybe even need some time at Triple-A, where has yet to take an at-bat.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Long-term, Kirilloff probably won't stick in left field, barring some unexpected advances in terms of defensive range and skill. He projects as more of a right fielder or at first baseman, but those positions are both spoken for at the moment.
With Rosario's departure leaving left field wide open, the Twins will happily unleash their best prospect there. What's important is finding a way to get Kirilloff's bat into the lineup. That might not happen right away, but barring unforeseen events, it's gonna happen.
This is a transitional year for left field, albeit one bursting with upside and tantalizing promise.
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