Fellow first-round picks Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff have been near each other on the Twins prospect lists for years and had similar ETAs to make their debuts at Target Field. It was only natural that when Kirilloff got the call, Larnach made the jump shortly thereafter. Kirilloff showed that a trip back to the minors was unlikely despite his season-ending injury. Larnach’s 2021 however is a bit tougher to piece together.
Despite just 13 at-bats in his AAA career, Larnach looked far from overmatched upon his arrival. He posted an .845 OPS through his first month with an incredible eye at the plate. The left-hander was showing off some tremendous power as well with some tape-measure home runs and hit a ball 116 mph, a strong indicator of raw power.
In the outfield, Larnach did surprisingly well in some facets. Left field appeared to be a bit of a struggle, but in right field, he played the overhang incredibly well, posting an Outs Above Average of 2 and 4 Defensive Runs Saved. We've heard Larnach isn't the fleetest of foot throughout his minor league career and there's been little in the way of excitement over his defense. That being said, he showed that he not only has the ability to be a difference-maker at the plate, but that he could surprisingly be a plus defender as well.
Despite Larnach’s .845 OPS in his first month, he finished with a final OPS of just .672. It’s not hard to imagine the steep decline it would take for such a drop-off. From June 1 forward, Larnach posted a slash line of .222/.301/.320, a .621 OPS. The issues were completely obvious: Larnach stopped seeing fastballs. He hit .165 and slugged .215 against breaking balls in 2021 as well as .143 and .179 against off-speed pitches. 72% of his strikeouts came against pitches other than fastballs.
Further complicating his struggles was an injury sustained after fouling a ball off of his foot. It’s hard to say whether the nagging foot pain contributed to the hitting woes, but after his demotion to St. Paul Larnach struggled mightily and played in just 10 games before being shut down for the season.
With his significant struggles fresh in our minds, it’s understandable that the former top prospect has lost some shine in some fans' eyes. He’s shown a very significant weakness that will surely be abused at the Major League level over and over again until he shows he can overcome it. That being said, Larnach is far from the stereotypical slugger.
Comparing him to a similarly tremendous slugger in Brent Rooker, for example, Larnach has a much better plate approach and his eye at the plate has held up at every stop of the minor leagues. He’s also been graded as having a far superior hit tool to Rooker, meaning more contact should be expected moving forward. He still has his issues to fix against the soft stuff, but his advanced offensive approach should prevent him from collapsing into the pool of hitters who can crush the ball on the rare occasion they make contact. These adjustments would likely be easier to make if he’s 100% healthy in 2022 as well.
Larnach’s early showing defensively, especially in right field, is extremely encouraging. The Twins have a rash of depth in the corner outfield with more on its way in the minors. If Larnach can be more than just a body to put out there to get his bat in the lineup, he could easily grab that job if the necessary adjustments are made at the plate.
These results also have to be encouraging for the front office, who will likely have to part with controllable pieces to get the arms needed to fill out the rotation effectively. Max Kepler has long been a rumored trade asset for example. While he’s had his incredible defensive seasons in right field, Larnach being competent at the position with a step up on offense would make Kepler much easier to part with. Larnach has possibly already shown more of a ceiling against left-handed pitching with 15 hits in 90 plate appearances against southpaws in 2021.
Like much of the Twins 2021 season, Larnach’s year had an encouraging start only to collapse down the stretch. That being said, such tendencies are not uncommon when it comes to rookies getting their first taste of Major League pitching. He may not be as highly rated as a possibly generational hitter such as Kirilloff, but Larnach is a pure hitter capable of adjusting. Regardless of the teams’ plans to compete in 2022, he should spend a few months in St. Paul before getting another crack at cementing a roster spot for the next six years. Come this time next offseason, we may just be talking about Trevor Larnach as a staple in the heart of the Twins 2023 lineup.