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!