What if Alex Kirilloff is THE One?
Image courtesy of © Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsThe former first-round pick falls more in line with Sano when it comes to athletic tools. He’s more hitter than he is well rounded athlete, but that doesn’t mean you should bank on him becoming a full-time designated hitter any time soon. While Sano is a hulking power guy, both Buxton and Lewis ooze tools that create plenty of fallback positives. For Kirilloff, the bat is expected to play so well that even a corner outfield or first base role doesn’t sap much of his value.
Here’s the deal, projecting early success for prospects is a very difficult practice. Sure, Wander Franco and Jarred Kelenic both have gone yard in Spring Training already, but their immediate success in the big leagues remains a complete question mark. Both of those guys are seen as better overall players than the Twins left-handed hitter, but it remains a dice roll as to how their careers start.
Let’s imagine for a second that Kirilloff winds up being a dude, more than just a guy. Instead of taking a typical progression to get there, say he achieves that status in year one. Minnesota hasn’t had a Rookie of the Year winner since Marty Cordova in 1995. Cordova went on to produce 6.5 fWAR (3.6 of which came in his first season) and was largely a forgettable talent. If you can bring yourself to dream on the heights Kirilloff has the ability to produce at, something much more special is in play here.
Twins Daily’s own Seth Stohs has suggested he’d be far from shocked to see the Pennsylvania native win a batting title or two. Sure, that might be seen through rose-colored glasses, but Seth has always been as plugged into the Minnesota farm system as anyone in baseball. It’s not as though the talent isn’t recognized elsewhere either given Kirilloff’s current status as a consensus top-100 prospect, and in the top 30 on two different lists.
Let’s venture over to FanGraphs for a minute. Dan Szymborski, creator of ZiPS, recently published his 2021 breakout candidate list. The first name on it, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., seems like a good bet to rebound. He tore up the minors, is in better shape, and now has some new understanding at the highest level on his side. We’re here for the second name on the list: Alex Kirilloff.
Noting how the projection systems work, and especially in the context of injury, Szymborski defines his stance saying, “He’s too low on the ZiPS Top 100, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he hit 30 homers in 2021. ZiPS only says 3.6% for that, but I think it’s closer to 25%.” The 90th percentile outcome for Kirilloff is a 3.1 fWAR player. He’s not going to add much defensively, but a rookie season with a .301/.352/.543 slash line including 25 dingers would be bananas. Assuming the Twins start him in left field on Opening Day as they should, reaching 30 would give fans a form of immediate gratification they’ve been missing from top prospects.
So, what if Kirilloff winds up being a dude, but just a guy for the 2021 season? Even his 10th percentile outcome is hardly worth throwing away. A .279/.317/.403 slash line with 12 dingers isn’t going to earn him much stability going forward, but it would be a fine debut. ZiPS currently has him pegged for 1.3 fWAR, or a 40th percentile outcome, including a .286/.328/.445 slash line with 16 longballs. That checks in higher than what the since departed Eddie Rosario did in 2019 and his 32-homer output was enough to garner MVP votes.
When the dust settles on Kirilloff in 2021 I think it will be easy to tell why he ranks how he does on prospect lists. Players like Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis are capable of winning MVP awards. At their best, they have offensive prowess and defensive acumen. Guys like Miguel Sano and the highlighted Kirilloff are going to produce with the stick, and although it’s singularly focused, the height of production is an incredibly valuable asset. Alex may never win an MVP, but he certainly could be in the discussion for a batting title or two, and betting on him for a Rookie of the Year nod while outpacing even the highest projections is hardly far-fetched.
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