Report From The Fort: Kirilloff Excited For The 2018 Season
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Alex Kirilloff)Alex Kirilloff grew up near Pittsburgh. He became a known hitting prodigy at a young age, and in 2016, he helped lead Plum High School to the state’s championship game. A week earlier, the Twins made him their first-round draft pick. Upon the completion of his high school career, Kirilloff came to Minnesota and quickly signed with the Twins.
He soon reported to Elizabethton where he hit .306/.341/.454 (.794) with nine doubles and seven home runs. However, late in the season, he was removed from a game with elbow pain. They later found that he had a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament.
Kirilloff said, “My initial thought was to try to avoid going the surgical route and try to do a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection. I rehabbed the 2016 offseason. But unfortunately, come spring training time, when that rolled around my elbow wasn’t feeling like it should so my next option was to get Tommy John surgery. So, it was kind of a no-brainer for me to get the elbow fixed. I had the whole 2017 year and season to get it healthy and ready again.”
He had the Tommy John surgery in March. It was a long process of recovery. Kirilloff noted that he did not start throwing a baseball until July. He waited even longer to start swinging a bat.
“About five months post-op, I started swinging the bat again which was awesome. That was right around August. There definitely wasn’t any rush knowing I wasn’t rushing back to play. Just kind of take your time as you go, make sure your body is right as you leap over those hurdles. I had to be patient, and hopefully it all pays off.”
While Tommy John surgery is generally associated with pitchers, there is a program for hitters as well. “It was just like throwing. I followed the hitting progression. Started with dry swings. Eventually went to a tee. I did soft toss, front toss and then batting practice.”
FRUSTRATION AND SUPPORT
There’s only so much a player can do when rehabbing Tommy John. It came with a lot of frustrations.
“It was definitely tough and frustrating having an injury to cause me to miss significant time like I have, but I took it as a challenge and definitely think I became better from it. My body feels a lot stronger now.”
While the physical recovery from a surgery and its lengthy rehab can be difficult, the mental and emotional side of it can be even more trying at times. Kirilloff is blessed with a tremendous support system.
“It’s been great. From my wife to my parents. Friends and family, I couldn’t ask for a better support system for sure. They’ve been there for me the whole journey, encouraging me checking in on me. Definitely blessed to have those people in my life. It’s been a great support system.”
Along with family, friends and the organization, Kirillloff was also strengthened by a strong faith which helped him through some of the difficult times as well.
“It’s really helped me with the disappointment side of it. Staying grounded in my faith in Jesus Christ has been a staple in trying to stay positive and work through any type of injury or situation like that. Words can’t describe how important that is to me, staying grounded every day, doing your devotionals and putting your faith in Jesus Christ definitely encourages you to keep going and stay on the right path. That’s everything, and it’s definitely helped me a lot.”
His Tommy John surgery is now in the rear-view mirror for Kirilloff and he’s looking forward to a full season in 2018. To do so, Kirilloff worked on strengthening the areas of his body that he could, with some limitations.
“I definitely wanted to get my total body stronger without putting on bad weight. At the same time, I tried to get more mobile (and get more) flexibility in areas needed. My whole body feels stronger than before. I’m happy about that.”
Right before Thanksgiving, Kirilloff was cleared. “I’m full go, no restrictions. I’m ready for 2018. I’m ready to get rolling.”
Leading up to the draft, there were many scouts around the league who believed Kirilloff was the best high school hitter in the draft. Others were surprised he got to the Twins with the 15th pick.
On the back fields on Tuesday morning, I ran into former Twins scouting directors Mike Radcliff and Deron Johnson. I mentioned the excitement a lot of fans have for the 2017 draft class. He agreed, but he also noted that the organization has a lot of belief in that 2016 draft class. In it, the Twins used their first four picks on high school bats, Kirilloff, Ben Rortvedt, Akil Baddoo and Jose Miranda.
Kirilloff knows that is his biggest strength on the field right now. “Hitting would probably be my strongest tool. I just try to pride myself in being as well-rounded as I can. I have to say hitting is my biggest strength right now.”
Now that he’s able to work on more things in practices, there are areas that he would like to work on to improve his overall game.
“Getting faster. Getting quicker. Strength. It’s important. Defense in the outfield, running routes, tracking down fly balls, reading angles off the bat. I think I’ve come a long way, but hopefully I can continue to improve at that.”
What Kirilloff needs is time. Like all young players, he needs to get at-bats, and if healthy, he’s likely to get a lot of at-bats. From brief observations at spring training, it’s clear he has a plan at the plate. He stays down on the pitches well, even against left-handers. He’s got a beautiful swing, and he’s got the swing and the strength to hit for a lot of power in time.
Likewise, he needs reps out in right field. It’s clear he is a corner outfielder, so he just needs game action and live fly balls and line drives to continue to work on that craft.
He is willing to put in the work. He’s always had a strong work ethic, but he noted Elizabethton manager Ray Smith and hitting coach Jeff Reed and their help in his development.
“(There’s) A lot of knowledge dripping off of those guys for sure. They instilled a hard work ethic in all of us, day in and day out. Getting acclimated to professional baseball and being able to play every day. Establishing a routine was one of the big takeaways for me. I was very fortunate to have them as my first manager and coaches. It was great, for sure.”
Kirilloff is young, and he missed a year of development time, but that shouldn’t alter anyone’s excitement about the type of player, the type of potentially impactful bat that Alex Kirilloff possesses.
Consider the top of Toby Gardenhire’s potential lineup in Cedar Rapids this year. Kirilloff could bat third, after Akil Baddoo and Royce Lewis, and just ahead of the likes of Wander Javier, Jose Miranda and Trey Cabbage.
While it may be easy to try to project the type of season and stats that Kirilloff could put up in 2018, he’s got a couple of other goals in mind.
“My main focus this year is to stay healthy, stay on the field really. Just happy to be back, playing baseball again. As far as stats go, I just try to control what I can control, day in and day out, not get too high or too low throughout this process. I’m definitely looking forward to this season. I have a passion for the game. Looking forward to getting back to playing the game I love.”
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