Like many diehard fans, it is easy to get immersed in the potential of young prospects. It can be more intoxicating when those prospects are taken first overall in the draft. Royce Lewis is a fantastic prospect with the potential to be one of the best players in the game. The speed, the power, the makeup; it is easy to see why he is viewed as one of the top prospects in the game. However, I have always thought that Royce Lewis is the second-best prospect in the Twins system.
Recently, Keith Law had Alex Kirilloff as the Minnesota Twins top prospect and the #9 prospect in all of baseball. I have always been of this opinion as well and it is nice to have someone with as much notoriety as Law agree with me on this aspect. It means even more coming from Law, who tends to value players who play premium positions and are plus athletes over other prospects. Royce Lewis fits that mold to a tee, so the fact that Law has Kirilloff as a top ten prospect tells me how much be believes in his hit tool.
The hit tool is the crux of the entire argument of Kirilloff over Lewis. In 2018, Kirilloff hit .333 in in Cedar Rapids with a .391 OBP and a .601 slugging percentage. Once he was promoted to Fort Myers, his average was .362 with a .393 OBP and a .550 slugging. He was 20 years old and hit 20 homers. The fact that Kirilloff had that high of a slugging percentage in the pitcher friendly Florida State League is remarkable. Everyone was expecting Kirilloff to continue to rake in 2019.
However, Kirilloff dealt with a wrist injury that sidelined him for a good portion of the first half of the season and zapped his power when he could play. He hit .283 with a .343 OBP and a .413 slugging, which is still decent considering his age in Double-A. However, it is what Kirilloff did in the second half of the season, specifically the playoffs, that leads me to believe it was mostly the injury to blame for the lack of power. Kirilloff had a huge power spike in the second half and finished the year hitting 4 homers in 5 playoff games. Wrist injuries are a killer for hitters, especially for hitters who generate power via leverage and twitch rather than brute strength. Kirilloff would be described as the former, so it would make sense that his power would return as he gets further removed from the injury.
While Kirilloff will most likely have above average to plus power as a big leaguer, it is his overall hit tool that will be his calling card. Kirilloff has a sweet swing and has fantastic hand-eye coordination. He also does not strike out at rates that are becoming more common place for hitters selling out for power. While Kirilloff’s walk rates are not high, he does take his fair share of walks which will allow him to continue to get to his power and hit tools by not being a free swinger. It is not out of the question that Kirilloff ends up a .310/.370/.500 type of guy with a plenty of doubles and 25-30 homers. That is a player you want, regardless of the position he plays.
This leads us to the main argument of Lewis over Kirilloff as the top prospect, which is positional value. Kirilloff is a guy who ends up as an average right fielder under the best projections. He is an average athlete (compared to other major league baseball players, not people who sit on their couch and write Twins blogs where he would be considered an amazing athlete) with an average to slightly above average arm. He has also spent a fair amount of time at first base already, which is a possibility for Kirilloff as he gets older and fills out more. If Kirilloff ends up a first basemen, the 25-30 homerun power will be something that will deflate his value as a prospect. Lewis on the other hand will either end up a shortstop or, worst case, a premium defender in CF. As we have seen with players like Buxton, getting a premium defender at a premium position has quite a bit of value even if the hitter is average.
This is where you must compare the two players and decide. In my opinion, Kirilloff is a player that has a floor as a hitter that is higher than the ceiling of Lewis as a hitter. On his current trajectory, Kirilloff is a guy who will compete for some batting titles, draw some walks, and hit for plenty of extra bases, even if only 20-30 go over the fence. That is a tremendously valuable player at either first or a corner outfield spot. However, Kirilloff is still growing into his body and could grow into some more power as he gets older. Lewis has a higher overall ceiling when you include the defense, but his floor with the bat is not ideal at this point. Lewis is still young for his competition, and I still believe he will be a great player, but the fact that Lewis hit so poorly in Fort Myers and Pensacola and showed very little plate discipline does concern me.
Ultimately, I do not believe you can go wrong choosing one of these two guys as your Twins top prospect. The Twins are lucky to have both guys in their system and both could make some noise in the majors within the next year or so. That being said, if I had to choose one prospect to keep, Kirilloff is my guy all the way.