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Lewis, Kirilloff Provide High Character, Huge Potential

They are the talk of Cedar Rapids, at least the talk all around Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, the Kernels home ballpark. People are talking (or raving) about top Minnesota Twins hitting prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff. They’re discussed in the press box. They’re discussed by the fans in their seats, especially when they do some of the things that made them first-round draft picks over the past two drafts.

Everyone wants to talk about Lewis and Kirilloff and for good reason. Over the weekend, I had a chance to talk to both of them quite a bit. I even hit record for a little while to get a perspective on the two that I haven’t seen yet.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Alex Kirilloff (#19) and Royce Lewis)
During my time in Cedar Rapids, I had spent time both Friday and Saturday with Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff. They are both terrific people. One might say that they are better people than they are baseball players. I think those that know them will agree with that statement even understanding that they are both tremendous baseball players with the potential to be impact big leaguers in the future.

As I’ve noted, the two have been absolutely bombarded in recent weeks. There have been phone interviews frequently. Twin Cities media is making the trek south to Cedar Rapids as much as they have since the team’s inaugural season in Cedar Rapids in 2013 when they had players like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jose Berrios and others.

Because of that, I knew that I wanted to limit my official time with them, meaning, asking them questions on record. So I came up with two questions for each of them that I hadn’t seen their responses to yet (unless I missed it).

To make it more fun, I wanted to interview them at the same time and see how they played off of each other. I also told each of them that if the interview lasted more than five minutes, I would give each of them a dollar. (Note: There were three dollars in my pocket.)

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There are a lot of similarities between the two, and there are obvious differences as well. While Kirilloff has more power, Lewis has as much speed as anyone in baseball and might develop into a 15-20 home run hitter. They both come from high-character families.They both played in the national showcases. They also both were highly-talented, clear-cut first round picks.

So as we are now less than a week from the 2018 MLB Draft, I thought it would be fun to hear what advice these former top picks might have for players who are projected to go early in this draft.

Lewis was the Number One overall pick in the 2017 draft out of JSerra Catholic High School in California where he helped his team to Trinity League championships in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Through much of the spring, Lewis was projected to be a Top 10 selection in the draft and Top 5 as the draft got closer.


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His advice to soon-to-be-first round picks? He said, “Just to be yourself and have fun. As soon as you step away from who you are, the game will eat you alive, and it just turns you into a different animal. Just be yourself.”

Kirilloff was another guy who burst on the national scene following a great junior season at Plum High School near Pittsburgh. Many believed that he was the best high school hitter in that 2016 draft, so some scouts were very surprised that he was available when the Twins selected at pick number 15. Kirlloff was drafted hours after leading his high school team to the state championship game. Two days later, they lost in that game, but it was a great run for the team.


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Kirilloff has good advice for those who could be selected early next week. “ I would just say soak it in, but it’s hard to soak it in and not get caught up in it. I think if you can do both at the same time, it makes it cool. For me, when I was going through the process, I was just having fun, winning with my team. That’s what I was focused on. At the same time, I was just taking everything in and enjoying it. That would be my advise. Soak it in and enjoy it.”

The personalities of the two players can be very different. If you’ve seen Royce Lewis in an interview, he’s very charismatic and the joy he has is very clear to any audience. Meanwhile, Kirilloff is more quiet and reserved but at the same time thoughtful in his responses.

One more similarity between the top hitting prospects is the fact that they are quite humble. So instead of making them tout themselves, I thought it would be fun to ask them about each other.

We started by asking Royce Lewis what it’s been like to play this season with Alex Kirilloff.

“It’s been awesome especially because he rarely smiles. So, he’ll hit two homers and then he won’t smile, and it makes it even more fun for me because I get to smile for him. He hits the crap out of the ball. It’s real special to watch. Like I said, when you have greatness on this team, it makes you step up to another level yourself, so it’s been a lot of fun competing against other teams and kicking people’s butt.”

When Lewis noted Kirilloff not smiling, I had to look and see if Kirilloff smiled. A definition for “Smile” might be “a pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up.” With that definition, Kirilloff smiled.

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Now it was Kirilloff’s turn to discuss playing with Royce Lewis.

“I just like seeing the joy that he has when he’s playing on the field and the teammate that he is, and the energy that he brings everyday is special. That’s what I feed off seeing from him. The joy that he has, so it’s pretty fun to be around.”

And that joy is infectious. Observing the Kernels dugout before each game, there’s no question who the leader of that clubhouse is. It’s Royce Lewis. He’s got special handshakes with the other hitters. When he DHs or when he gets a day off, he is the team’s biggest cheerleader. When a pitcher comes off the mound, he’s usually the first guy high-fiving him. He’s got a home run celebration with Kirilloff.



Later, I asked Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire about Royce Lewis and he clearly enjoyed talking about his star shortstop.

“With Lewis, he’s a freak athlete, obviously. He can run. He can hit the ball really far in BP which he’ll turn into some power as he develops. But the biggest thing with him is his makeup. He’s just a great kid. He’s a spark plug. He’s a team leader. He’s just a really great kid. That’s the part about him that’s really fun. You see some leadership qualities in him and hopefully he’ll get up to the big leagues and be a Twin for a long time.”

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Gardenhire was drafted by the Twins in 2002 and again in 2005 after finishing his college years at Illinois. He played in the organization through the 2011 season. He played 173 games in Double-A and 153 games in Triple-A. Over those seven minor league seasons, he played with a lot of teammates. The natural follow-up for me was to ask Gardenhire if he had played with a teammate who exhibited similar leadership and personality traits as Royce Lewis.

“Everybody’s a little bit different. Plouffey (Trevor Plouffe in Gardy lingo) had his personality. He (Lewis) lights everybody up. Being around the guy makes everybody happier. He’s just a good guy to have around. Plouffe had a little of that going too.”

But Gardenhire notes that Lewis tends to be Must-See TV for his teammates too. “The on-field stuff? He’s just really exciting all the time. That exciting part is kind of like Byron Buxton. You see him do things and think ‘That’s awesome!’ The guys get really excited. But his makeup grade, his ability to be a teammate and all that stuff is pretty cool.”

Not to be forgotten as “the other first-round pick,” Kirilloff also garnered high praise from his manager.

“The thing about Alex, his makeup grade is really, really high too. He’s a really smart baseball player. He’s extremely mature for his age, and as a baseball player too, he’s very mature in his approach. He knows how to hit. He knows what he’s trying to do when he goes up there. It’s really hard to get him off of that for a pitcher. That’s very rare for a young guy like him. It’s pretty rare. He’s a mature hitter. He’s got a good swing. He does a lot pretty well.” Gardenhire added, “I’ve got him smiling a bit here and there. Here’s a really good kid.”

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While there has been much debate in the Twins Daily forums regarding when Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff will be promoted over the last month or so, those same conversations go on internally as well. It is very likely to happen. My guess is that they will both participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game and festivities. While the rosters have not yet been announced, it would be shocking if either of them didn’t make it.

Trust me, it isn’t an accident that the Twins have drafted a couple of very high character players the last couple of years. I think they will admit that character and makeup are a big part of their reports and evaluation. Obviously the player has to be able to play and have the skill set needed for the lofty draft status, but character matters. And Royce Lewis and Alex Kiriloff have tremendous talent and potential to go with impressive character and class.

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50 Comments

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IndianaTwin
May 30 2018 05:44 AM

I used to be a children's minister, and I'm married to a special education teacher, so I pay attention to how people treat little kids and those on the margins of society.

 

When I saw the Kernels in Clinton a few weeks ago, I was struck that Lewis was the one guy on the team that asked the bat boy his name, told them his, bumped knuckles and asked them a question. Then, when they switched teams mid-game, he did the same with the second kid, who also had a physical limitation. Nice job, Royce.

    • diehardtwinsfan, nicksaviking, Blackjack and 11 others like this

I am impressed.Nice insight.Get them to the bigs ASAP!

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SF Twins Fan
May 30 2018 07:37 AM

It's going to be great to watch these two as they move up each level. Obviously we're a few years down the road but it will be interesting where Kiriloff will play with the Twins outfield seemingly set with Rosario, Buxton and Kepler. 

I always feel a bit weird about the "character" concept. I get that it’s a thing. We’ve all worked jobs and played sports and have realized how important personality and how you handle yourself can be. Talent isn’t everything and emotional intelligence matters etc.

 

That said, it always seems like character is applied to people who fit a general concept of what a player should be. Goes to church, nice family, leadership skills, quiet and modest etc. It implicitly indicates that other players lack character or are somehow deficient because they like to go out, are loud and brash etc. I guess I just think the correlation we draw between high-character and doing well is not as strong as we make it – perhaps because we like the narrative and perhaps because it’s subjective so we only apply it to people with talent (no one lauds Drew Butera’s character because he just isn’t that good).

 

There’s another reason I always feel uncomfortable with that word. I hesitate to even make this point because it may be divisive but I’ve (unscientifically) noticed that when we apply character, we tend to do it with white players. I’m not calling anyone racist or anything, I think it’s normal. Our concept of Morality tends to be driven by cultural norms from movies and Americana – the aw shucks John Wayne/Audie Murphy-type who just gets ‘er done and is kind and polite. That cultural figure has almost always been white – just like Hispanic characters and black characters have been portrayed in other ways. When we bring a cultural concept like morality or good leadership into things, we’re going to bring in that understanding too.

 

This maybe got a bit discombobulated but that tends to happen with this subject because it’s uncomfortable for us straight white dudes. I just always cringe when I hear people talking about character when describing a prospect because it just feels like implicit coding for something else and it feels uneven.

    • Thrylos, adjacent, whosafraidofluigirussolo and 2 others like this

I understand if this is not the place for this discussion. We can certainly move it or ignore this.

 

I understand if this is not the place for this discussion. We can certainly move it or ignore this.

 

I'll ignore, thanks. I've got nothing... Just... 

    • ThejacKmp likes this

There's little wonder that Kiriloff "knows how to hit." Unless I'm completely off base, he's the grown-up version of the little home-schooled kid I saw seated at a school desk beside the batting cages at the facility his father owned outside of Pittsburgh whenever I took some of my players there in the off season.  

 

There's little wonder that Kiriloff "knows how to hit." Unless I'm completely off base, he's the grown-up version of the little home-schooled kid I saw seated at a school desk beside the batting cages at the facility his father owned outside of Pittsburgh whenever I took some of my players there in the off season.  

 

I met Mr Kirilloff (the dad) this spring in Ft. Myers. Really good person. Enjoyed chatting with him. 

 

I always feel a bit weird about the "character" concept. I get that it’s a thing. We’ve all worked jobs and played sports and have realized how important personality and how you handle yourself can be. Talent isn’t everything and emotional intelligence matters etc.

 

That said, it always seems like character is applied to people who fit a general concept of what a player should be. Goes to church, nice family, leadership skills, quiet and modest etc. It implicitly indicates that other players lack character or are somehow deficient because they like to go out, are loud and brash etc. I guess I just think the correlation we draw between high-character and doing well is not as strong as we make it – perhaps because we like the narrative and perhaps because it’s subjective so we only apply it to people with talent (no one lauds Drew Butera’s character because he just isn’t that good).

 

There’s another reason I always feel uncomfortable with that word. I hesitate to even make this point because it may be divisive but I’ve (unscientifically) noticed that when we apply character, we tend to do it with white players. I’m not calling anyone racist or anything, I think it’s normal. Our concept of Morality tends to be driven by cultural norms from movies and Americana – the aw shucks John Wayne/Audie Murphy-type who just gets ‘er done and is kind and polite. That cultural figure has almost always been white – just like Hispanic characters and black characters have been portrayed in other ways. When we bring a cultural concept like morality or good leadership into things, we’re going to bring in that understanding too.

 

This maybe got a bit discombobulated but that tends to happen with this subject because it’s uncomfortable for us straight white dudes. I just always cringe when I hear people talking about character when describing a prospect because it just feels like implicit coding for something else and it feels uneven.

I agree to a degree.Character and leadership sometimes get overblown.Sure it is good to have a fun loose clubhouse with nice guys.Getting along and playing for each other is better than an I'm in it for me divisive clubhouse but most of these guys are "good" with high baseball IQ's.So yeah its nice and all but in the end talent wins.

 

As for clubhouse leaders I don't think the White narrative is completely correct.I mean Kirby was the Twins high character leadership guy for along time as was Tori Hunter.Maybe there are more Caucasian players with those qualities I don't know but you kind of either have it or you don't regardless of skin color.

    • Oldgoat_MN and 3balls2strikes like this
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IndianaTwin
May 30 2018 08:45 AM

 

I always feel a bit weird about the "character" concept. I get that it’s a thing. We’ve all worked jobs and played sports and have realized how important personality and how you handle yourself can be. Talent isn’t everything and emotional intelligence matters etc.

 

That said, it always seems like character is applied to people who fit a general concept of what a player should be. Goes to church, nice family, leadership skills, quiet and modest etc. It implicitly indicates that other players lack character or are somehow deficient because they like to go out, are loud and brash etc. I guess I just think the correlation we draw between high-character and doing well is not as strong as we make it – perhaps because we like the narrative and perhaps because it’s subjective so we only apply it to people with talent (no one lauds Drew Butera’s character because he just isn’t that good).

 

There’s another reason I always feel uncomfortable with that word. I hesitate to even make this point because it may be divisive but I’ve (unscientifically) noticed that when we apply character, we tend to do it with white players. I’m not calling anyone racist or anything, I think it’s normal. Our concept of Morality tends to be driven by cultural norms from movies and Americana – the aw shucks John Wayne/Audie Murphy-type who just gets ‘er done and is kind and polite. That cultural figure has almost always been white – just like Hispanic characters and black characters have been portrayed in other ways. When we bring a cultural concept like morality or good leadership into things, we’re going to bring in that understanding too.

 

This maybe got a bit discombobulated but that tends to happen with this subject because it’s uncomfortable for us straight white dudes. I just always cringe when I hear people talking about character when describing a prospect because it just feels like implicit coding for something else and it feels uneven.

 

Thanks, Thejac Kemp. And as another straight white dude (who's working on being gray-haired to boot), I think you're spot on. I try to be very sensitive to that dynamic, but I know that I still carry my implicit biases.

 

I've cringed a few times when our language on Twins Daily has described a few (read, often Latino) players with less than complimentary terms and wondered if the same descriptors would get used about other (read, Anglo) players. To take it to a different setting, I recently send a message to the host of my favorite syndicated radio show, naming that I thought it inappropriate that on their Cinco de Mayo show featuring "South of the Border" classic country music, a disproportionate number of songs featured the stereotype of Mexicans only caring about drinking and partying. I've not gotten a response.

 

I've not yet had the courage to raise that question on TD, at least in part because I think the moderators do a great job and that people are generally pretty respectful, but sometimes it's the subtle stuff that's most damaging, just because we don't realize it's happening.

 

(But as an aside, I did actually hear Dan or Corey (Corey, I think) brag on Drew Butera's character last night, so I'll share it as a good story. Apparently Butera befriended a kid with cancer and told the kid that if the kid beat the cancer, he would dye his hair whatever color the kid wanted. The kid did, and a few weeks ago they went to the salon so that Drew could get pink hair.) 

    • Thrylos likes this
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IndianaTwin
May 30 2018 08:48 AM

 

I'll ignore, thanks. I've got nothing... Just... 

 

And ditto -- I'm glad to go elsewhere if appropriate. I think you posted this while I was writing my response. I do appreciate the work you do as moderators, and I think that all in all TD is great in working with these dynamics. A primary reason I come back regularly is the civility that is demonstrated here.

 

 

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this
I have no idea how to judge their character.... But on the field they look great

 

I agree to a degree.Character and leadership sometimes get overblown.Sure it is good to have a fun loose clubhouse with nice guys.Getting along and playing for each other is better than an I'm in it for me divisive clubhouse but most of these guys are "good" with high baseball IQ's.So yeah its nice and all but in the end talent wins.

 

As for clubhouse leaders I don't think the White narrative is completely correct.I mean Kirby was the Twins high character leadership guy for along time as was Tori Hunter.Maybe there are more Caucasian players with those qualities I don't know but you kind of either have it or you don't regardless of skin color.

 

I thought about Torii as I wrote this actually. Two points with him:

 

1) Torii was considered high-character later in his career but not as much early. Character seems to be something you develop as you become a veteran. :-P
2) It’s interesting that Torii was seen as high-character since he was pretty openly homophobic during his career. That doesn’t fit with a modern, liberal morality. Kind of draws me towards that concept that character is a reflection of an older, more conservative concept of morality.

 

A big part of it also seems to be how well-spoke a guy is, something Torii Hunter always was. Joe Mauer, lily-white MN family boy, is rarely talked about as high-character. He’s not low-character but you don’t hear a lot about his awesome character. These tags get dropped by media and scout types who are used to talking to all kinds of players, many of whom may not be great communicators. Maybe it’s a short-hand way of saying, “This guy is well-spoken” and then we equate that with a good family etc.

 

That also raises some of those race/national orientation issues. Sano may be very well-spoken in Spanish but not so much in English but we don’t even know. And maybe we have different standards for players who are ethnic minorities than those who are not (in ways that might benefit them or hurt them).

 

I dunno, could just be a load of B.S.

I don't get what's not being understood. Character is a trait. It's how you carry yourself along the lines on integrity. Traits don't have race and it's completely obtuse to imply that due to one's race that they get labeled with certain traits more often. 

 

If you believe that less black ball players have this character trait talked about less than a white, guess what, you would be correct. Not because blacks are less likely to have this type of trait but because there are less blacks in the sport. 

 

Many have talked about the traits of Buxton, Puckett, Hunter, ect. They happen to all be black, play(ed) center field. Does that mean that having good character in a black man means he plays center field? Of course not.

 

Let's also not forget, Puckett would've been thrashed today for what he did. Hunter is extremely homophobic. People have their faults and a discussion can be had what makes a person good/bad or if there is even such a thing as a good/bad person (hint: there isn't). 

 

 

why am I still typing...

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

"Character" and "makeup" are in the eyes of each beholder and, other than extremes (from Ted Bundy to Mother Theresa), we all have pretty much different criteria about what it is "positive" or "negative," as well as put variable gravity/importance on personality traits of ballplayers.

 

What we can all agree on is the play on the field and the potential.These two guys have that and that alone will serve the Twins well in the future, as long as they get along with their teammates.

    • Mike Sixel and Dman like this

 

Character is a trait. It's how you carry yourself along the lines on integrity. Traits don't have race.

 

"Integrity" is extremely objective, and it is better used inwards and not to describe others.In other words, the only ones who we should be allowed to judge with our criteria should be ourselves (and maybe our progeny when they are minors.)

 

Traits do not have race, but they have a strong cultural component, which does have racial implications.For example, different cultures treat males and females differently: To the eye of most of us of a western culture, making it illegal for women to be in certain places unescorted, at least lacks 'integrity'.In Arab countries, it practically is gospel. 

I'll laud Drew Butera's character.Great dude.

 

https://www.mlb.com/...fan/c-277280556

 

You don't stay in the bigs on just your lofty .201 career batting average.

    • Seth Stohs likes this

I'll stay away from the race issue but every time I see or hear that someone is a great ball player but an even better person I cringe a little and in probably at least three different ways. 

1. Probably just not true if you do the math. Lewis as a top pick among tens of thousands or more of guys that want to be a top pick means that to be a better person than a player means he is a better person than those tens of thousands. or more. Maybe he actually is that one in a billion guy but both he and Kirilloff? Probably not.I mean I might be a better person than a baseball player but I think I am a decent person and a not very good baseball player so making that kind of statement for the run of the mill guy or player might actually be true but probably not true of the less than1 percenters of great athletes.

2.You mostly here about it regarding athletes.I rarely hear anyone say "So and sois a great (doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher, mechanic, sports writer) but an even better person.

3.Aside from the points above the ideas really just don't mesh.Its like saying "That strawberry is a great fruit but its an even better strawberry" Ok, its not quite like that but maybe a thread for analogies to the great athlete but even better person would be kind of fun.

 

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

How did this thread get derailed from these two kicking butt to wild speculation of character of former players?  Cant wait to see what these guys do in Ft. Myers!

    • Carole Keller, Seth Stohs, DocBauer and 3 others like this
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SF Twins Fan
May 30 2018 10:55 AM

I don't think I could say it better than AZTwin that this discussion got completely derailed. This was definitely not the discussion I was expecting to read.

 

Back to their talent and topic at hand. What does everything think about these two being selected to play in the Arizona Fall League? Would this be a typical stage for them to go against the better talent in that league?

Seth mentioned character multiple times, and in the title... And stressed it. That's how it became about character, and not just on the field stuff.
    • Thrylos and Oldgoat_MN like this

 

How did this thread get derailed from these two kicking butt to wild speculation of character of former players?  Cant wait to see what these guys do in Ft. Myers!

Well, the post is about their character and their potential so its really not that great a leap to speculate and draw comparisons.Just their performance and potential can be found in scouting reports and the daily minor league roundups. My post was probably more critical than it should have been. I cheer for the team and really prefer to do so when I think the players on the team are good guys and both of these appear to be so.

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

 

I don't think I could say it better than AZTwin that this discussion got completed derailed. This was definitely not the discussion I was expecting to read.

 

Back to their talent and topic at hand. What does everything think about these two being selected to play in the Arizona Fall League? Would this be a typical stage for them to go against the better talent in that league?

 

I think they'll both move up to the Florida State League in the next few weeks and see increased talent in that league. And then they are probably even likely to go to the AFL. The talent there is a split between High-A and AA players. 

 

Seth mentioned character multiple times, and in the title... And stressed it. That's how it became about character, and not just on the field stuff.

 

Yup, and it was mentioned by their manager and by each other, and in talking to several others about them. It's part of who they are and it's important. 

 

Like I noted, it's one part of the picture. Lewis wasn't the #1 overall pick because of his character... it was because of his talent, but the character definitely was a big factor as well. 

    • Mike Sixel and Dozier's Glorious Hair like this
I think if you have more specifics about what character is, and examples of what they do, the conversation might be different.... But, imo, character does have coding issues.... Sometimes
    • Carole Keller and Dman like this

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