Twins 2018 Minor League Hitter Of The Year
Image courtesy of Linwood Ferguson (graphics by Finn Pearson)Before we get to the Top Eight, we will take a look at others who received votes. While some of the top prospects finished near the top of this list, the Twins got quality hitting performances from many guys up and down the system. But when it came down to it, there was one Twins hitting prospect who stood out above the rest in 2018. Royce Lewis and Brent Rooker had really terrific seasons, but Alex Kirilloff had one of the best minor league seasons in recent Twins minor league history.
Regarding Kirilloff, Lewis and Rooker, Twins minor league director Jeremy Zoll noted, “They’re three of the most exciting names in our system, and three guys that we pushed relatively aggressively, especially in the case of Rooker being his first full season in pro ball, and Royce and Alex too for that matter. And to see them meet those challenges, work through those challenges and compete and excel has been great.”
Six Twins Daily Minor League writers were asked to vote for the various awards. For the hitter of the year, we each voted for eight players. The player who was voted as #1 received eight points, #2 received seven points and so on with the #8 vote receiving one point. Results were tabulated and can be found below.
Short profiles of our top eight are to follow, but first, some players worthy of honorable mention. These players also received votes.
- Ryan Jeffers - Elizabethton Twins/Cedar Rapids Kernels - 64 games, 83-241, .344/.444/.502 (.946), 17-2B, 7-HR, 48 R, 33 RBI.
- Jose Miranda - Cedar Rapids Kernels/Ft. Myers Miracle - 131 games, 133-503, .264/.319/.417 (.736), 27-2B, 1-3B, 16-HR, 61 R, 82 RBI.
- Willians Astudillo - Rochester Red Wings - 78 games, 79-286, .276/.314/.469 (.782), 17-2B, 1-3B, 12-HR, 30 R, 38 RBI.
- LaMonte Wade - Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings, 120 games, 109-424, .257/.360/.380 (.739), 11-2B, 4-3B, 11-HR, 54 R, 48 RBI.
- Michael Davis - Elizabethton Twins/Cedar Rapids Kernels, 45 games, 48-157, .306/.343/.567 (.910), 9-2B, 1-3B, 10-HR, 29 R, 32 RBI.
Here are the top eight vote-getters for Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year:
8. Luis Arraez – Ft. Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts – 108 games, 126-406, .310/.361/.397 (.758), 20-2B, 3-3B, 3-HR, 52 R, 36 RBI.
Arraez hit .347 for Cedar Rapids in 2016 to win the Midwest League batting title as a 19 year old. Three games into his 2017 season in Ft. Myers, Arraez tore up his knee and needed surgery which cost him the remainder of the season. He came back to the Miracle in mid-April and had just two hits in his first 29 at-bats (.069). Over his next 53 games, he hit .357. He was the Twins Daily Hitter of the Month in June when he hit .449 with 13 extra base hits and an OPS over 1.100. He played 26 games that month and had multi-hit games in 16 of them including five three-hit games, two four-hit games and a five-hit game. On July 4th, he was promoted to Chattanooga where he hit .298 over the final 48 games.
7. Akil Baddoo – Cedar Rapids Kernels – 113 games, 106-437, .243/.351/.419 (.770), 22-2B, 11-3B, 11-HR, 83 R, 40 RBI.
When looking at Baddoo’s stats, it is important to look past the batting average. Sure, that’s an area of improvement that he’ll want to make in his development. However, when he consider his on-base percentage and the extra-base hit power and you can understand why the organization is so excited about the talented 20-year-old. In fact, he didn’t turn 20 until mid-August. Baddoo does a nice job at the top of the order. Considering how many walks he takes, Baddoo is not a passive hitter. As you would guess from the extra-base hits, he’s got a strong, powerful swing. He’s got very good speed and stole 24 bases. He also profiles as a very solid center fielder whose arm strength has improved since the draft.
6. Jaylin Davis – Fort Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts – 120 games, 120-439, .273/.347/.412 (.759), 24-2B, 2-3B, 11-HR, 53 R, 53 RBI.
The former 24th-round pick from Appalachian State put together a solid season in 2018. Since signing, he has shown good power, but he’s also had a lot of swing and miss in his game. While he still did in 2018, it is important to note that his strikeout rate dropped while his walk rate increased significantly. Davis spent the second half of 2017 in Ft. Myers and that is where he began the 2018 season. At about mid-season, Davis received his promotion to Chattanooga where he put up very similar numbers. Davis will look to continue his improvements in the Arizona Fall League.
5. Taylor Grzelakowski – Fort Myers Miracle – 95 games, 99-332, .298/.370/.458 (.828), 23-2B, 3-3B, 8-HR, 46 R, 40 RBI
Grzelakowski was one of the better stories in the Twins minor league system in 2018. Signed late in 2017 as a non-drafted free agent from the United Shores Professional Baseball League after a career at Madonna University. He got a handful of at-bats in the GCL after signing last year. He came to spring training this year, and when the season started, he had skipped Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids and made the Ft. Myers roster. He caught, played first base, and played some left field while making a lot of starts at DH too. And it didn’t take long for him to hit near the top of the Miracle lineup. He hit well and was very consistent throughout the season. So, it may have started out as a fun story, but “Gelly” made himself a prospect to watch with his strong bat.
4. Zander Wiel – Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings – 116 games, 130-437, .297/.367/.442 (.809), 27-2B, 3-3B, 10-HR, 58 R, 65 RBI
Since the Twins made Zander Wiel their 12th-round draft pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt, he has been consistent and moved up one level each year. 2018 was the first season in which he received a late-season promotion, playing 16 games at the end of the year in Rochester. Drafted as a first baseman, Wiel and Brent Rooker split time between first base and left field throughout 2018. Wiel takes generally professional at-bats. He has a lot of doubles power and can sometimes hit some long home runs. He had a walkoff homer in a game for the Red Wings.
3. Brent Rooker - Chattanooga Lookouts – 130 games, 128-503, .254/.333/.465 (.798), 32-2B, 4-3B, 22-HR, 72 R, 79 RBI.
The Twins liked Brent Rooker enough that they drafted him twice. He was the team’s 38th-round pick in 2016 but chose to go back to Mississippi State. He won the SEC Triple Crown in 2017 and the Twins made him a supplemental first-round pick after the season. The Twins pushed him to Ft. Myers to end last year, and he spent his first full minor league season in Double-A Chattanooga. Things started out pretty slow for Rooker. Through his first 42 games, he hit just .233/.278/.374 (.653) with four home runs. Over his next 60 games, he hit .312/.389/.624 (1.013) with 20 doubles and 16 home runs. He struggled again late, but again, we can see what Rooker’s potential is. A lot of strikeouts (150!) and a lot of power and extra-base hits.
2. Royce Lewis - Cedar Rapids Kernels/Ft. Myers Miracle – 121 games, 141-483, .292/.352/.451 (.803), 29-2B, 3-3B, 14-HR, 83 R, 74 RBI.
The top pick in the 2017 draft had a strong first full season in pro baseball. He began the season in Cedar Rapids, where he finished the 2017 season, and did well. In 75 games for the Kernels, he hit .315/.368/.485 (.853) with 23 doubles and nine home runs. Many of those extra-base hits came in his final 40 games with the Kernels. He made the Midwest League all-star team and a few weeks later, he was promoted to Ft. Myers. In his 46 games with the Miracle, he hit .255/.327/.399 (.726) with six doubles, three triples and five home runs. Lewis impressed at shortstop, and he led the organization with 28 stolen bases. In the Florida State League championship series, he hit three homers to help the Miracle to the championship. There is a lot of reason for excitement in Lewis’s future.
Hitter of the Year
Alex Kirilloff – Cedar Rapids Kernels/Ft. Myers Miracle – 130 games, 178-512, .348/.392/.578 (.970), 44-2B, 7-3B, 20-HR, 75 R, 101 RBI.
I mean, it was probably the easiest choice of all of our 2018 Twins Minor League award votes. All six of our voters chose outfielder Alex Kirilloff as the 2018 Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year. Kirilloff’s 2018 season was as impressive as we have seen in the Twins system in a number or years.
Twins Minor League Director Jeremy Zoll summed it up pretty nicely. “Just a phenomenal season for Alex. To see what he’s done after missing a whole year last year. Start to finish. Wire to wire really just continue to take amazing at-bats and do damage to the baseball has been extremely fun to watch.”
It almost makes one forget that Kirilloff missed the entire 2017 season after having Tommy John surgery last March. He was cleared for all baseball activities by about Thanksgiving last year, and he was a full-go in spring training.
He began the season in the cold of Cedar Rapids. In his first three games, he went 1-for-12. And from that point forward, he was remarkably consistent. In 65 games in Cedar Rapids, he hit .333/.391/.607 (.999). Then in Ft. Myers, he played 65 games and hit .362/.393/.550 (.943).
Kirilloff said, “Cold weather was a factor for the beginning of the MWL season, after that I adjusted well and enjoyed that league in general playing wise. FSL air is a lot thicker, not a hitter-friendly league.”
He enjoyed the opportunity to play in the Midwest League All-Star Game. “The Midwest League All-Star Game was a blast. Having a bunch of my family there from Michigan was really special for me. Sharing the time with Royce (Lewis) and Jared (Finkel) made it even better.”
Following the All-Star Game, Kirilloff went directly to the Ft. Myers Miracle. In his second game, he had four hits and followed it up with a three-hit game.
A few weeks later, Kirilloff represented the Twins on Team USA at the Futures Game. His manager was Torii Hunter. LaTroy Hawkins was the team’s pitching coach. Matthew Lecroy was on the coaching staff. Miracle hitting coach Steve Singleton was the Team USA hitting coach for the game.
Singleton said recently that he and the other coaches knew the Kirilloff would have a great showing.
“Torii, LaTroy and I joked in the staff meeting at the Futures Game that our guy would get two hits, then he did.”
Kirilloff went 2-for-2 in the game and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “The Futures Game was an incredible experience. Have to say it tops the Midwest League All Star Game a little bit. Just being a part of All-Star week, playing in D.C., and playing in a big league stadium in front of that crowd was fun. On top of that being around the caliber of players that were there made that whole thing awesome as well.”
Kirilloff was excited to share the two All-Star game experiences. “Best part about both of them was just the opportunity to be there, and to share it with my wife and family. Both weren’t something I was really thinking about or on my radar at the beginning of the year.”
When he returned to the Miracle lineup, he had multi-hit games in eight of his next nine games. He had hits in 27 of his next 28 games.
Singleton discussed working with Kirilloff in Ft. Myers and the talent that he possesses. “It was an absolute pleasure having AK this year. Obviously, the talent is special, but the person is even better. He is very mature for his age, stays even- keeled, goes about his work the right way and is a great teammate. He was a leader on the team without ever asserting himself that way. He handled himself like a veteran in a tough league and dominated it in his first full season. Offensively, he is ahead of anyone I have ever been around at 20 years old.”
The consistency that Kirilloff showed throughout the season can be illustrated by the below tweet showing where his line drives and fly balls went in 2018. Kirilloff uses the whole field as well as anyone.
So, it is fair to ask Mr. Zoll how much he considered pushing Kirilloff up to Double-A Chattanooga. His response:
“When you perform like that, that consistently, that long, it definitely is a thought that crosses people’s minds, and showed up in discussions internally. Ultimately just trying to make sure we’re doing what’s best for Alex’s long-term development here. Also very excited that he gets to play in the Florida State League championship, meaningful games in August to get into the playoffs. And with Royce, with (Brusdar) Graterol, with a nice little core there with the Miracle. ”
That trio played in the Florida State League championship series, and that trio helped the Miracle to their second Florida State League championship in the last five years.
Kirilloff said, “Being a part of any playoff run is always exciting. The group of guys we had, our coaching staff, and front office really made this one special. Was really happy and pleased that we started clicking and playing really good baseball as a team down the stretch. Then we’re fortunate enough to continue that into the playoffs and do what we did. Incredible year!”
While this is a hitting award, it was important to ask Jeremy Zoll about Kirilloff’s defense and specifically his arm. “Alex is really technically sound out there. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not a burner by any stretch, but he makes the plays that everyone expects him too. The arm has really good carry on it still, and no lingering effects from the surgery and missing all that time.”
Singleton said, “He has committed himself to his speed and athleticism this offseason and I expect him to improve from this season to next...as crazy as that sounds.”
Jeremy Zoll said, “It’s been cool for him, and on top of being a great player, he’s a great person and a great representative for the organization.”
What a year 2018 was for Alex Kirilloff. And, as voters, we appreciate him making the voting quite easy this year!
In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily minor league writers:
- Seth Stohs – 1) Alex Kirilloff, 2) Royce Lewis, 3) Brent Rooker, 4) Taylor Grzelakowski, 5) Zander Wiel, 6) Luis Arraez, 7) Jose Miranda, 8) Akil Baddoo
- Jeremy Nygaard – 1) Alex Kirilloff, 2) Royce Lewis, 3) Zander Wiel, 4) Brent Rooker, 5) Jaylin Davis, 6) Luis Arraez, 7) Akil Baddoo, 8) Michael Davis
- Cody Christie – 1) Alex Kirilloff, 2) Brent Rooker, 3) Royce Lewis, 4) Jaylin Davis, 5) Taylor Grzelakowski, 6) Akil Baddoo, 7) Willians Astudillo, 8) Zander Wiel
- Tom Froemming – 1) Alex Kirilloff, 2) Royce Lewis, 3) Brent Rooker, 4) Taylor Grzelakowski, 5) Zander Wiel, 6) Akil Baddoo, 7) Jaylin Davis, 8) LaMonte Wade
- Steve Lein – 1) Alex Kirilloff, 2) Royce Lewis, 3) Brent Rooker, 4) Ryan Jeffers, 5) Zander Wiel 6) Taylor Grzelakowski, 7) Luis Arraez, 8) Jose Miranda
- Ted Schwerzler – 1) Alex Kirilloff, 2) Royce Lewis, 3) Brent Rooker, 4) Zander Wiel, 5) Taylor Grzelakowski, 6) Jaylin Davis, 7) Akil Baddoo, 8) Jose Miranda
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