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Alex Kirilloff: More Than Just the "Other" Kernels First Rounder

Posted by SD Buhr , 09 May 2018 · 582 views

After standing in a line of about 20 people for a few minutes, a couple of guys finally got the autograph they wanted during the Cedar Rapids Kernels regular Sunday post-game autograph session. They had secured the autograph of Royce Lewis, the Minnesota Twins first round pick in the 2017 MLB amateur draft and the first pick overall.

They stood for a moment and looked out at the area of right field where Lewis' team mates were spread out, some standing by themselves and some in groups of two or three players, all signing autographs for a handful of fans that had gathered around them. One of the guys asked the other, "Where's the other first rounder?"
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Alex Kirilloff (Photo by SD Buhr)

That's right, the Kernels don’t have a first round pick on the field this season – they are in the enviable and rare position of having TWO of the Twins’ recent first round picks and both have been beating up on Midwest League pitchers through the first several weeks of the season.

Lewis has been everything you'd hope for as a Twins fan. He has put up a.373 batting average and .849 OPS in 83 at-bats through Tuesday's game at Dayton., He carries a six-game hitting streak into Wednesday’s game. He has also hit safely in 16 of his 20 games.

That’s the kind of start that has a lot of people wondering how soon the first overall pick in the 2017 draft will be promoted to Class High-A Fort Myers.

Alex Kirilloff, the "other" first rounder the autograph hounds were looking for, was selected by the Twins in the first round (15th overall) of the 2016 draft and, while Lewis has rightfully been getting a lot of publicity, Kirilloff has also been making a strong case that his time in Cedar Rapids should not be an extended stay, either.

Kirilloff’s OPS of .851 is almost identical to that of Lewis, but they’ve taken different paths to establishing that number.

OPS is the sum of two other statistics, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and Lewis’ .OPS is composed of nearly equal on-base and slugging percentages. Kirilloff, on the other hand, is reaching base at a .327 clip, but his slugging percentage is a robust .524.

His batting average has climbed to within shouting distance of .300, and over half of his hits this season have been of the extra-base variety. Kirilloff has 12 doubles (second most in the Midwest League) and four home runs among his 30 hits. He is also taking a nine-game hitting streak into Wednesday night’s game..
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Alex Kirilloff (Photo by SD Buhr)

Having first round picks on the field is nothing new for the Kernels.

Since they began their affiliation with the Twins in the 2013 season, fans in Cedar Rapids have watched outfielder Byron Buxton (in 2013) and shortstop Nick Gordon (in 2015), as well as pitcher Kohl Stewart (in 2014). Of course, Lewis suited up for the Kernels for the final couple of weeks of the 2017 season, as well.

Buxton, Gordon and Lewis, as everyday position players, generated a lot of buzz at the ballpark, as befits a first-round pick, and Lewis continues to see a lengthy line of autograph seekers during the Kernels’ Sunday afternoon autograph sessions.

Any other year, you know Kirilloff would be getting that focus from fans and media.

But this is no ordinary year in Cedar Rapids.

Kirilloff bats third in a lineup that not only includes Lewis and himself, the two first round picks, but also typically includes a second-rounder (C Ben Rortvedt), two Compensation “B” round picks (IF Jose Miranda and OF Akil Baddoo), a fourth round pick (OF/1B Trey Cabbage), a Twins fifth rounder (3B Andrew Bechtold), a Mariners fifth round pick (C David Banuelos, obtained in a trade) and an eighth round pick (OF Shane Carrier). On top of those “slot pick” players, outfielder Jean Carlos Arias was an international free agent that signed with the Twins for a mid-six-figure bonus.

And that list doesn't even include the pitching prospects.

He certainly gets his share of autograph requests, but there’s no doubt that sharing a field with Lewis and the other high-priced talent on the Kernels roster has resulted in Kirilloff playing in a broad shadow during the early part of the 2018 season, despite having one of the cleanest, most consistent and most productive swings you’re ever likely to see from a 20-year-old.

Spend a few minutes talking to the 20-year-old from Pittsburgh, though, and you can tell he is not the least bit bothered by his circumstances. Quite the contrary.

“It is a lot of fun,” Kirilloff responded, over the weekend, when asked his feelings about being a part of a lineup that is pretty much loaded with highly regarded position prospects. “We all have to still show up and do our jobs, but it’s a great group of guys that are even better people, as well. They’re fun to be around and an exciting team.”
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Alex Kirilloff (Photo by SD Buhr)

At this point, you can understand if Kirilloff is just happy to be back taking meaningful swings at the plate after missing all of the 2017 season following Tommy John surgery. It would also be understandable if he had started off this spring a bit rusty, but there’s no rust in his swing.

“I had known it was not going to be easy, at first, taking a year and a half off from live at-bats,” he said. “I was expecting to take it one step at a time, to be honest. I learned a lot from spring training and kind of built on that and just continued to plug away this year. Hopefully, I can continue to build off of our start and my start, as well.”

Best of all, perhaps, there have been no lingering effects from his injury.

“The arm’s great. No problems. It’s been a blessing,” he confirmed.

It hasn’t all been easy, though. Cedar Rapids played several games in near freezing temperatures and even occasional snow flurries during April and even had to sit through a six-day layoff caused by cold temperatures and snow. It’s not that they didn’t notice, he and his team mates just treated the inclement weather as one more part of learning to be professional ballplayers.

“It was just really cold here at the beginning of the year,” he recalled. “But, all of us were expecting that, being in Iowa.”

You might think that Kirilloff is anxious to quickly make up for the development time he lost by sitting out last season, but that’s not really at the forefront of his mind this spring.

“Just kind of maintaining for 140 games is the biggest key for this year,” Kirilloff said, adding, “and keeping my body healthy. Staying on an even keel throughout that whole stretch is going to be big. It’s a long season.”
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Alex Kirilloff signing autographs during a Sunday post-game autograph session (Photo by SD Buhr)

Still, with such a hot start, you couldn’t blame Kirilloff if he got a bit antsy about whether his hot start might be earning an early promotion to Fort Myers. If that’s the case, you’d never know it.

“I’m content where I am,” he said. “Wherever that takes me, I’m going to play as hard as I can, whether I’m here or wherever else.”

That kind of level-headed approach to his baseball life probably wouldn’t come as a huge surprise to those who know the young man who married his wife, Jordan, just a few months after he was drafted by the Twins in 2016 and was home-schooled – not only with regard to the typical educational curriculum, but where baseball is concerned, as well.

“Yeah, my dad’s been a hitting instructor and a coach my whole life,” he said, smiling. “He’s always had his own hitting facility back in Pittsburgh, so I was raised in that environment as a kid. I’d go to work with him and be around that stuff all day long. So, he’s been a pretty integral part in my career and my life. Teaching me and developing me.

“He tells the story sometimes that the day I could stand up and walk, he put a bat in my hands. I kind of get a chuckle out of that.”

That might certainly explain that sweet swing.

(This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com)

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