Lewis, Kirilloff Provide High Character, Huge Potential
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
- Steve Lein, Monkeypaws, DocBauer and 8 others like this