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Royce Lewis vs. Alex Kirilloff: Who's Next in Line?


Max Kepler left Saturday's game with right quad tightness, and it sounds like there's a fair chance he'll land on the injured list.

Should that happen, the player called up to replace him will almost certainly be either Alex Kirilloff or Royce Lewis. So let's try to answer two questions: who will it be, and who should it be?

After coming out of Saturday's loss to Kansas City with leg tightness, Max Kepler's status going forward was in doubt. The right fielder was due for an MRI, with Rocco Baldelli saying "it could go either way" in terms of an IL stint.

The thing is: even if the Twins think he could return in a few days, they might be inclined to place Kepler in IL anyway. They've already been bitten by shorthanded benches, in instances where Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco were active yet unavailable as late-game subs. Now the Twins are in the middle of an absolute gauntlet of games and travel, with no breaks. 

Even if Kepler avoids the IL, Minnesota is surely going to need reinforcements soon enough, so the question is pertinent either way: which of their top two talents at Triple-A is next in line?

The Case for Royce Lewis

Many felt he should've never been sent down to begin with, having excelled during an 11-game stint with the Twins following a scorching hot start at Triple-A. But the Twins wanted to get him a little seasoning around the field so as to ensure Lewis – fresh off missing two full seasons – wasn't taking on too much at once.

It's only been a couple weeks since they sent him down, but Lewis has basically shown everything you could want to see in terms of readiness. He's continued to rake with an ultra-aggressive, free-swinging approach. He's made starts in left field, center, and at third, in addition to shortstop. He's flashed immediate proclivity at these new positions.

Lewis is the kind of electric difference-maker that would have a real chance to offset the significant loss of a guy like Kepler, who's been one of Minnesota's most valuable players this year. And now the Twins can feel some confidence in moving Lewis around the field to keep him in the lineup everyday.

The Case for Alex Kirilloff

Unlike Lewis, there is no developmental reason to have Kirilloff in Triple-A, other than: he's not right, and they need him to get right.

There are signs he has gotten right. 

Since being sent down to Triple-A in the middle of May, Kirilloff is hitting .364/.435/.509, so it's safe to say he's a step ahead of minor-league pitching. The question is whether he can translate that success to the majors, where he has a .398 OPS in 10 games this year, and some ugly underlying metrics

The power still hasn't really shown up for Kirilloff – 16 of his 20 hits since returning to the Saints have been singles, although he does have a couple of home runs, including a two-run blast on a good-looking swing Thursday. 

Kirilloff is a more straightforward one-for-one swap for Kepler than Lewis, given that he's a lefty-swinging corner outfielder. You could essentially plug Kirilloff right into Kep's role, while perhaps mixing in some days at first base and spelling Luis Arraez as DH.

Who Will the Twins Choose?

The final tidbit above makes me feel like Kirilloff has a good chance. It's easy, it's tidy. However, I tend to think Lewis might have the inside edge. 

Part of it is that the Twins need a real spark to get through this upcoming stretch if Kepler is sidelined. Lewis has been consistently tearing it up and impressing this year. Kirilloff, despite his very good numbers, is not quite slugging to a convincing extent at Triple-A. Lewis is just a better bet to make a bigger impact.

The other thing, and maybe the bigger thing, is that the Twins are in a grind right now. They haven't had a day off in almost two weeks, and they're looking ahead to nine games in the next eight days, with a road doubleheader mixed in. Right now the Twins need bodies they can rely on.

Rocco Baldelli probably would (and should) feel inclined to take it somewhat easy on Kirilloff, who is still feeling pain through his swing. Kirilloff certainly would not play both ends of a doubleheader for instance.

Lewis, though? He's a spry and incredibly athletic 22-year-old who can play multiple key positions. He's shown no signs of hindrance from last year's knee injury – Lewis stole his 12th base in his 34th game at St. Paul on Saturday.

Hopefully Kepler's MRI comes out clean and he's back in the lineup within a few days. If not, I think Lewis gets the call, though it wouldn't surprise me at all if Kirilloff is the choice. 

Do you see the Twins going with Lewis or Kirilloff as their next position player call-up? Or maybe another direction? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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Because I'm the first to offer a comment, let me list all the usual rantings so we can get them out of the way and discuss Kirilloff versus Lewis.

1.  When is the incompetent front office going to get an Ace?

2.  Why can't the incompetent front office trade for a bunch of Lopez type relievers?

3.  Fire Baldo!

4.  Trading Rogers was the #1 dumbest move of this century.

5.  Why does Baldelli leave his pitchers in so long?  (Or the opposite - why doesn't our idiot manager leave pitchers in longer?  Obviously, he can't do anything right!

As for Lewis or Kirilloff getting the call up if Kepler is IL'd, either is fine with me.

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Lewis is number 1 any way you look at it.  His bat has worked in AAA and MLB this year.  Kiriloff has struggled in MLB, still has a weak wrist and should still be up soon.  We need bats and both of them give us real threats.  I want to bring them both up, but when I look at the team Lewis and his ability in the field makes him the logical choice because whoever comes up should not go back down. 

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41 minutes ago, wsnydes said:

I'd actually bring both up, but if I have to choose one it would be Lewis.  

Lewis can fill the role Gordon currently holds and then some and Kirilloff would allow Miranda to be sent down.  Perhaps an injection of youth could spur the offense a little.

Agree with all of this. Miranda currently provides backup at both first and third, but bringing up both guys would also cover those positions. There is some question whether Kirilloff is all the way back, but every sharply hit ball gives evidence that he is. Lewis has done nothing to indicate that he is not ready to be back with the Twins.

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51 minutes ago, wsnydes said:

I'd actually bring both up, but if I have to choose one it would be Lewis.  

Lewis can fill the roll Gordon currently holds and then some and Kirilloff would allow Miranda to be sent down.  Perhaps an injection of youth could spur the offense a little.

Yep, time to say thank you and good luck to Nick Gordon. He has given the club everything he has, but it's just not enough to warrant a roster spot now that Lewis is ready. If Kepler hits the IL, that's an opportunity for Kirilloff to show whether he's ready to face major league pitching. 

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It’s time for both to be in the big leagues. The simple solution is to send Miranda down to regain his stroke since Lewis and Kiriloff, as a pair, can handle first and third. The offense is struggling right now with Buxton always a step away from another injury. 

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It doesn’t matter. It isn’t a season changing decision or a career altering decision. Either can help but neither can play catcher.

If Kepler goes on IL I think it will be Godoy to give Sanchez another day after being pulled yesterday. Godoy might be needed through Tuesday’s double header.

As for Miranda, since Lewis went down he is 6 for 14 with 3 doubles. Was it worth all the angst when Lewis was sent down instead of Miranda?

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37 minutes ago, Franz said:

Yep, time to say thank you and good luck to Nick Gordon. He has given the club everything he has, but it's just not enough to warrant a roster spot now that Lewis is ready. If Kepler hits the IL, that's an opportunity for Kirilloff to show whether he's ready to face major league pitching. 

Gordon has been worth a lot for the Twins with a respectable .258 BA, very good speed and bunting ability and superb defense in LF. If he’s let go, he’ll be snapped up so fast, it’ll be alarming.

I’m ready for Lewis’ return and permanently. Not as sure about Kirilloff. I think the wrist is still hurting and what happens when the cortisone shot wears off? Another one maybe? The Twins OF situation is getting to be a backlog of talent, which, I guess is good!

If I’m honest, I would catch Sanchez most and not DH Jeffers but use that slot for someone like Celestino or Lewis or Kirilloff. I would consider Lewis the #1 CF on Byron Buxton off days and #1 LF on other days. Larnach can get at bats in LF and DH.

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I’m 100% all for Kiriloff staying at AAA for another few weeks and proving to himself and the team that he’s too good for that level. He’s played less than 25 career games at AAA. He can stay there a bit and gain confidence/build momentum.

Lewis looked like a force with the big club. I want him back up now.

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2 hours ago, wsnydes said:

I'd actually bring both up, but if I have to choose one it would be Lewis.  

Lewis can fill the roll Gordon currently holds and then some and Kirilloff would allow Miranda to be sent down.  Perhaps an injection of youth could spur the offense a little.

What I was thinking as I read this.  And Nick, another great post...thanks.

All I would add is what a shame that Kep gets hurt while playing the best he has, ever.

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I'd call up Lewis. Celestino should be off the covid list soon and to make room for him then they can send down Miranda. According to TV Gordon has been getting practice reps at 1B in case Arraez needs a break and in ST both catchers got some practice reps at 1B. If I was running the Twins I would also give both Lewis and Urshala some practice time there as well.

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41 minutes ago, shabbos1 said:

I understand he's played all over, but he'll need to prove he can handle right field in a less stressful environment at AAA before any moves are considered.

Lewis probably wouldn't be in right field if Kepler is out. Larnach has quite a bit of experience there and Lewis is a better fit for the bigger area in left. 

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With Celestino and Kepler both presumably out for a while, maybe it makes more sense to recall Kirilloff than I earlier thought. He is after all, a corner outfielder/first baseman. 

I don't think the time is now to bid farewell to Gordon. That he provides infield depth and outfield depth and a reasonable chance to reach base makes him pretty ideal as a bench player. I would guess that Sanchez should be fine today and that a third catcher isn't needed. 

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Lewis is the one looking more confident at the ML level.  Kirilloff needs to get right.  His long-term development should outweigh the need to fill a spot specially given we have other options.  A couple weeks ago I would have said we need him for 1st base but I am rather shocked how well Arraez has handled 1st base and that gets him in the lineup every day.

I agree Gordon's time is coming to an end but he is still useful and he should be kept for a trade piece between now and the deadline.  I would hope we could get a decent BP rental for Gordon or he could be part of a bigger trade.

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Send Miranda down now for Lewis before todays game.  Bring AK up if kepler is on DL tomorrow.  Sign DK to a minor league deal as soon as the whiteys release and pay him. He can throw batting practice across the river until he gets it together in late August. 

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If it was my decision to make I'd view the situation as a long term matter, not a short term situation (who's joining the team as a short-term substitute for an injured player). Granted, the Twins are more competitive this season than most of us expected. But are they serious contenders for post season play in 2022? Probably not. Close, but not quite close enough. When they can beat Houston and New York in regular play, they're ready. So the long term goal should be readying the team for 2023. In that scenario, the team has to count on Lewis, Miranda and Kirilloff to take key rolls on next year's team. All three have to "be ready". So all three need to be playing full-time for the Twins right now, not wasting time starring at the AAA level. There is nothing they can learn playing for the Saints that they can't also learn playing for the Twins. Plus the value of major league experience.

So you bring up Lewis now with the idea he's staying for the season. Kirilloff, since he's sort of on a rehab assignment, you leave in AAA until you're sure the bum wrist is going to hold up or he learns how to deal with an aggravating injury, sort of a Buxton-type thing. Miranda stays up with the team. He has a track record of initially struggling at a new level of play, then adapting. He can't "adapt" to major league play pounding the hell out of the ball in the minors.

Gordon, unfortunately becomes expendable with Lewis, Miranda and Kirilloff on the team. But he has trade value so start shopping him. There's also no room for Sano to return, not that we need him, package him with Gordon. Nail down Correa as soon as possible. If he commits to returning, Urshela becomes expendable as Lewis will claim third base in 2023 with Correa staying at short. So start shopping Urshela. If Correa hedges, start preparing for Lewis to take short in 2023 and Miranda to play 3rd. Urshela is again expendable. A package of Gordon and Urshela might be attractive enough to land a decent pitching prospect. Sano you can throw in for free.

So the short answer is bring up Lewis. The long answer is keep all three, Lewis. Miranda and Kirilloff, on the major league team for the rest of 2022, replace a few retreads off the pitching staff with young talent from the minor league system in the second half of this season and plan for the play-offs in 2023.

 

End of Sunday sermon. Go in peace.

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Thge next big move is switching out Kirilloff for Miranda. Even though Miranda is hitting a tad better, I would rather see him work it out in St. Paul and play first base regular, if that is a position you'd like him to play.  Although I still do see Miranda as the third baseman of the future. St. Paul seems to be playing Steer at second, and Palacios is holding down third.

Right field at Target field is a tough spot, but the Twins are on the road come Monday. You want the strongest bench you can possibly have, especially with a doube-header in play. Give Kepler the rest if you need to do so.

Yes, Celestino will be back in the next week. I would rather have 4-5 games of Lewis in the line-up right now and then make a decision on who to send back (that extra pitcher). 

Jeffers and Sanchez will tandem catching duties on the double header and one will play the day before, and one the day after.

I'm more curious as to whom the Twins will recall to pitch the double-header. I doubt Ryan will be back until at least the day after (I hope Ryan is throwing as looks like he will be a part of the series against the Yankees). I hope he gets his warmup game against the Tigers.

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