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A Trend With Twins First Basemen


cjm0926

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Like many other baseball fans, I am very bored during this lockout. There are no free agent rumblings or really much of anything in the baseball world currently. I was doing some research on Kirilloff, and something got me thinking. Alex Kirilloff is a young, left-handed hitting first baseman, who projects to be the first baseman of the future for the Twins. The Twins seem to have a history with left-handed hitting first basemen. Some of those first basemen were named Kent Hrbek, Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer. I am sure you can see where I am going with this, so I will just get into the article.

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Kent Hrbek held down first base for 13 years for the Minnesota Twins. Kent got a glimpse of the big leagues in 1981. In 24 games, he hit .239 with a homer. He also posted an 85 OPS+ (100 is league average) which would be his last time being a below average hitter until his last season in 1994 when he posted a 99 OPS+. He became a full time starter in 1982 and retired at the end of the 1994 season. He was a great hitter with even better defense. Throughout his career he built up a 38.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Over his 14 year career he hit .282 with 293 home runs and 1086 RBI’s in 6192 at bats. He had a 128 OPS+ over his career, making him a well above average hitter. In comparison, Freddie Freeman, one of the best first baseman throughout the 2010’s, holds a career 138 OPS+. Kent was very consistent throughout his career, until the last 2 or 3 years where he dealt with injuries. The odd thing about Kent’s career is that he was an All-Star only one time, which was in his first full year in 1982. He didn’t even make an All-Star team when he was 2nd place for MVP in 1984. Part of that is because he played in the steroid era, when some of the best hitters of all time played, steroids or not. Many of the AL All-Star first baseman awards throughout Hrbek’s career went to Eddie Murray, Mark McGwire, and Frank Thomas. Although Kent Hrbek doesn’t have all of the accolades such as gold gloves and all stars to show off, he had a very good career and is one of the best players in Twins history.

When Hrbek retired in 1994 until Justin Morneau took over 1B full time in 2004, multiple names split time there. The most notable was Doug Mientkewicz. Also some dude named David Ortiz played there for a few years, I wonder how he turned out? Anyways, Morneau took over 1B in 2004 when Mientkewicz was traded to the Boston Red Sox. Morneau instantly became a fan favorite, hitting .271 with 19 home runs in his first year. He was a well above league average hitter, posting a 122 OPS+. He underwent a bit of a sophomore slump in 2005 before breaking out in a huge way the next year. In 2006 Morneau won the AL MVP by hitting .321 with 34 home runs and 130 RBI. He continued to mash over the next couple years, and signed a 6 year, $80 million extension before the 2008 season. Morneau played in 163 regular season games in 2008, and the contract seemed to be paying off. In 2010, Justin Morneau’s career changed in a huge way. On July 7, 2010 in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Justin Morneau slid into second base trying to break up a double play when he was struck in the head by Blue Jays infielder John McDonald. It was a play that had happened hundreds of times without anything bad happening, but this time it did. Morneau had a concussion and was out for the rest of the 2010 season. He was never the same player after that day. At the 2013 trade deadline the Twins traded Morneau to the Pirates for Alex Presley and Duke Welker. Morneau won the 2014 NL batting title with the Rockies, and played his last year with the White Sox 2016. He officially retired in January of 2018 after not playing in 2017 marking the end of a good career. Morneau posted 22.9 out of a 27 total career WAR in a Twins uniform. He had 1318 of his total 1603 hits with the Twins, and 221 of his 247 home runs with the twins. He also had 860 RBI’s in his career with the Twins, and was nearing 1000 for his whole career with 985 total RBI’s. Throughout his Twins 11 year tenure he posted a 121 OPS+. There is no doubt he had a good career but there will always be the thought of what could’ve been.

Joe Mauer was made the full time 1B of the Twins in 2014 after Justin Morneau had served that role for nearly a decade. Mauer had been bitten by the injury bug many times in his career, which ultimately was the reason the Twins had him move over to 1B in 2014. Joe Mauer was drafted 1st overall in 2001 by the Minnesota Twins. He was drafted as a catcher and had played that position for over a decade before making his move to first base. He was on track to become one of the best catchers of all time, winning 3 batting titles, an MVP in 2006, 5 Silver Sluggers and 3 Gold Gloves. The Twins liked what they saw enough to give Mauer an 8 year, $184 million extension, which is still by far the biggest deal in franchise history. During the 2013 season, Mauer suffered a concussion after being hit in the facemask by a foul tip.  It was determined early in the following offseason that the Twins would move their franchise cornerstone to first base to preserve his health. Like his good friend Morneau, he was never the same player, which could be partly due to increasing age as well. Mauer played 5 seasons at first base before calling it a career. In his final game, he suited back up into his old catcher's gear to catch a pitch and was given an emotional standing ovation. When somebody mentions the Minnesota Twins, Mauer is often a name that comes to mind. He had that kind of impact on the Twins as a former 1st overall pick and hometown hero. He is at the top tier with franchise greats such as Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett. Mauer will likely join the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the coming years, and rightfully so. He ended his career with 2123 hits (.306 average),143 home runs, 923 RBI’s, a 124 OPS+, and a 55.2 career WAR. He also ended with accomplishments such as 5 Silver Sluggers, 3 Gold Gloves, 3 batting titles, 6 All-Star Game appearances, and last but certainly not least, a 2006 AL MVP Award. It will be exciting to see how his Hall of Fame case goes about in the coming years.

All of that brings me to the point of this article, Alex Kirilloff. As you may have noticed, I went over 3 of the best first baseman in franchise history, which happens to be the position Kirilloff plays. Like the other 3, Kirilloff also bats left-handed (although that doesn’t matter much, just a coincidence). Kirilloff broke out in the minors in 2018, placing him high on many lists. He made his much awaited debut in 2020, although surprisingly in the postseason. He didn’t make the team out of spring training, but was up with the Twins not too long after. After his 59 game showing in the majors before his wrist injury, it looked like he would be the first baseman of the future. In the majors in 2021, he hit .251 with 8 home runs and 34 RBI’s with a 98 OPS+, which are not numbers that will wow you. However, he made plenty of hard contact, and looked like he belonged, but just had some back luck. I don't want to put massive expectations on him, but it certainly looks like he is poised to be our first baseman for the next decade. It should be fun to watch him for the next many years alongside the other top prospects we have in the system, but only time will tell. Thank you for reading, and Go Twins!!!

 

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I really liked this look at historic 1B and how the Twins have used the position.  If we extend the list to Twins history Harmon Killebrew played 1B for 14 of his 21 seasons.   Bats R - throws R.  The trend did not start in the first two decades.  My eye test - back then both eyes worked - said Vic Power (3 years a Twin) was the best fielding and most fun of all the 1B - he was also R/R.  994 Fielding average, 7 gold gloves, 

Thanks for your new era review!

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Great contibution. Thanks for the article.  It would be great to see Kirilloff at first, and I suspect we will some of the time this year, and probably full time in 23 once Sano is gone (assuming Sano doesn't have a huge rebound year).  I really hope his wrist is not going to be a nagging issue his whole career.

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This is awesome analysis, I think Kirilloff is definitely the Twins 1B of the future, and he got extremely unlucky this year. This Baseball Savant leaderboard shows that Kirilloff's expected batting average (based on statcast factors) was .291 but his lack of luck caused him to hit .251. This 40 point difference was the 8th highest in all of MLB among players with > 100 batted balls. His expected slugging percentage was .541 but he only slugged .423. The 118 point difference was the second highest in MLB among players with >100 batted balls.

He was also extremely unlucky with injury. There was a noticeable difference after June and you could see that his wrist was bothering him. If Kirilloff can overcome the wrist injury and get back to mashing balls, it will only be a matter of time until he is one of the best hitters in the American League.

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It all comes down to Alex's wrist. If it heals properly his stoke should put up numbers in the .300 avg, 25 big flies, 90 runs and rbi neighborhood. That is some nice real estate. If the wrist nags I believe those numbers drop to around .250, 10 and 60/60. OUCH. 

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I agree with the Killebrew and Vic Power takes, but there was ANOTHER Twins 1B-man who hit left handed and threw right handed.  He just came up as a 2B-man.  That guy was Rod Carew.  One small correction I'll point out:  You have Mauer and Morneau BOTH winning the MVP in 2006.  Morneau was the 2006 winner.  Mauer won in 2009 when he hit .365 with 28 HR's.  I also think Kiriloff is destined to be a 1B-man who occasionally plays a corner OF spot.  He's our best player there.  Sano is destined to be our DH most of the time who occasionally plays 1B.  I think Kiriloff could be a sneaky good fantasy baseball selection next year in the later rounds.  Not sure if he'll be a 1B-man exclusively or also have some OF eligibility but I think he's ready to break out.  If the lockout continues, Kiriloff should jump to the Wild and skate on the same line as Kaprisov.  :)  

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