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  • Don't You... Forget About AK

    Nash Walker

    There is a fundamental disagreement among romantics: does distance make the heart grow fonder or “out of sight, out of mind”? For Alex Kirilloff, it feels like the latter. And how can you not be romantic about baseball?

    Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports

    Twins Video

    Eddie Rosario’s postseason heroics for the Atlanta Braves remind fans of similar electric moments he provided for years as a Twin. Rosario’s vintage game two in the ALCS, where he wreaked havoc on the base paths, made a leaping play in left and walked off Kenley Jansen, was tabbed by Twins fans long before Sunday as The Eddie Rosario Experience™.

    The Experience carries clear positives, many of which were on display Sunday night. But his downfalls as a player - a lack of plate discipline chief among them - ultimately drove the Twins to non-tender him last winter rather than pay an estimated $10 million in his final year of arbitration. 

    An equally-strong force was the emergence of Alex Kirilloff, the Twins’ top prospect who destroyed the minors in 2018 and charged his way up the rankings as a potential elite left-handed outfielder. While unproven, Kirilloff’s track record was sterling outside of a rough start in 2019 when he was hampered by a wrist injury (more on that later). 

    Kirilloff didn’t make the team out of spring training, another questionable decision by a front office that has raised plenty over the last year. Kirilloff indeed hit just .129/.182/.258 in 33 spring plate appearances, raising doubts about whether he could help the two-time defending division champions win right out of the gate. 

    "AK" ultimately received The Call on April 15th for a doubleheader against Boston. His start was anything but ordinary. He began his MLB career going 0-for-15 with more hard-hit outs than there are stars in the sky. 

    His quality of contact finally equaled results over an excellent seven-game stretch. Kirilloff hit .321/.333/.857 with four homers and three doubles over that span. He had arrived, and at a time when the Twins needed some juice. AK looked as advertised. 

    But of course, this was the 2021 Twins, and Kirilloff could not escape their misfortune. He injured his wrist sliding into second base amid his torrid stretch and missed nearly three weeks of action. 

    The injury mostly sapped Kirilloff's power for the rest of the summer, and he finally opted for surgery in July. Kirilloff’s season was that rare mix of both excitement and disappointment. He crushed when healthy, but only for a few weeks. 

    As Nick pointed out in this outstanding piece, Kirilloff is still only 23 and already showing massive power potential when that was his main question as a prospect. On the flip side, he’s had wrist issues in each of the last two seasons (spanning three years). That’s not great.

    Here’s what is: Kirilloff’s expected slugging percentage in 2021 (.532) was one point less than Juan Soto, Josh Donaldson, and Luis Robert’s (.533). 

    Kirilloff was the unluckiest hitter in baseball by many measures. There was a 109-point difference between his actual and expected slugging percentage, the most in baseball. 

    The difference between Kirilloff’s actual and expected batting average was the third-highest behind fellow Twin Max Kepler and the struggling Cody Bellinger. 

    We often attribute things to bad luck when that’s not the case. It is here. Kirilloff can only hit the ball hard for so long before results reveal themselves. Those results could be waiting for AK in 2022. The sky remains the limit. 

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    I expect AK to HIT.  He's just a darn good hitter.  Cream, eventually, rises to the top.  It's also why I think hanging onto Kepler is wise.  Max needs to figure out how to beat the shift.  He still hits the ball HARD, it's just usually into the teeth of the shift.  An off season of working on a new approach is needed if Max is to remain a major leaguer.   He's already a talented defensive outfielder, something Larnach will never be.  Larnach may be "serviceable,"  but he'll never be what Max is defensively.  With other young outfielders coming thru the system, I'm trading Larnach for young, controllable pitching.  With Trevor, I'm targeting the Marlins.  

    Kiriloff isn't going anywhere though.  He will be "decent" in the outfield and looks to be pretty "slick" at 1B.  But it's Kiriloff's bat that will be a force in the Twins lineup for many years to come.

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    Hard to to talk about Rosario - how fun to watch in the Atlanta game.  

    But Kiriloff does not replace Eddie, he is a player that I am happy to have on the team, but his history of injuries is something that does worry me.  

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    Kirilloff is going to be excellent next season. He can flat-out hit and will fit in very nicely in the heart of the order. he should be the starting LF from Day 1 next year, backup at 1B and get a few days off at DH. here's hoping he plays 150 games next year, because if he does I see 20+ HRs and 30+ doubles with a very nice slash line. He's passable in the corners and can hold it down just fine until 1B opens up.

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    Sweet swing. I was sorry to see what the wrist injury did to him, and I'll hold out hope that it won't be a lingering issue moving forward. Does anyone know if other players have come back strong the next year from this specific surgery?

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    I thought I had heard that his second wrist injury was different than the first one. I hope that is correct.

    I don't believe his being sent down to begin the season was a mistake or nefarious in any way. He just had a bad ST and they wanted him to get his legs under him and get going. I think he did that and the results were excellent when he got his shot. I believe he's going to be a big producer in the heart of the lineup for years to come. 

    Just another in a long list of bummer for 2021 he wasn't able to be healthy and finish out the season.

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    Kirilloff would be an ideal #3 hitter, but the Twins have Jorge Polanco in that spot. I would like to see him hit behind Donaldson and in front of Sano. I'm also not going to worry about injuries too much because they were different injuries to the wrist and Alex will have worked hard by Spring Training to strengthen the areas and get ready for a big year. 

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    On 10/19/2021 at 6:10 PM, blindeke said:

    Why would they throw Eddie strikes?

    Uh.....great question!  Especially after just seeing Rosario destroy an inside breaking pitch from Buehler with 2 strikes.  OMG....do the almighty Dodgers ever read scouting reports??

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