Expectations are sky-high for Alex Kirilloff at the dawning of his big-league career. He made a heralded debut for the Twins in last year’s playoff series against the Astros and put together some strong at-bats after not appearing in a professional game for months. His prospect stock rose significantly based on positive reports of his performance at the team’s alternate site including being named Twins Daily’s top prospect.
So far in 2021, his lone big-league appearance was as the team’s 27th man for a doubleheader against Boston. He made appearances in both games and ended the day 0-for-3 with a strikeout. It’s certainly hard to read anything into such a small sample size, but this was coming off the heels of a rough spring training where Kirilloff had an opportunity to win the starting left fielder job. In 12 games, he went 4-for-31 with two extra base hits and eight strikeouts.
Even with a poor spring, Kirilloff is still going to have a ton of pressure placed on him when he takes over a regular starting role. It also doesn’t help that the Twins have been struggling in multiple facets of the game. Kirilloff’s presence might offer a small boost to the club. However, he can’t close out games in the ninth inning and his defensive value is limited whether he plays in the outfield or at first base.
Luckily, the Twins have plenty of other more experience hitters to hit in the top half of the line-up. This can leave Kirilloff near the back of the batting order, so there is less pressure on him. In his only start, manager Rocco Baldelli penciled him into the sixth spot in the order and later in the game he was removed for a pinch hitter. This will allow him to get acclimated to the big leagues until he proves his bat is ready for this level.
One wrinkle in the Kirilloff plan is finding him a defensive position as he joins the club. Reports from the team’s alternate site have Kirilloff playing extensively at first base. Miguel Sano is currently dealing with a tight right hamstring, so he might need time off and Kirilloff would be a natural choice, if/when he is called up.
Baseball isn’t a game where one player can take over a game and sole-handedly push them to victory. For instance, look at Mike Trout and his big-league career. He is on a path to quite possibly be considered the best baseball player of all-time. During his 11-year career, the Angels have only qualified for the playoffs one time and they were swept by the Royals. Trout does things on the field that few have done before, but he can’t control every aspect of the game.
Bryon Buxton had very high expectations when he was called up to take over a full-time role. Buxton seems to be in the midst of a break-out campaign, but it took time and patience for him to reach this level. It’s important not to rush to judgement with any young player, especially after many prospects saw little or no professional action during the 2020 season.
Kirilloff is on track to have a long big-league career, but he alone can’t fix everything that has been going wrong for the Twins in 2021. Minnesota fans are frustrated, but Kirilloff shouldn’t bear the brunt of that negativity if he struggles out of the gate. He’s a long-term building block and not a savior for the franchise.
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