With first MLB hit, Kirilloff stands alone

September 30th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Whatever a young ballplayer imagines for his future Major League debut as he takes swings in his backyard and plays travel ball, there's simply no way it could stack up to what actually went through on Wednesday.

It would have been historic enough for Kirilloff to become the third player -- and first Twin -- to make his MLB debut during the postseason since the World Series began in 1903. He also became the first to start in that debut when he played right field and hit sixth in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series against the Astros at Target Field.

Better yet, in the fourth, the Twins' No. 2 prospect clubbed a solid single to right field as part of a 1-for-4 performance in the club's season-ending 3-1 loss to Houston, making him the first position player to get his first hit in the postseason. The bat-first prospect followed that up with a sliding catch in the right-center-field gap during the top of the fifth, helping quash a potential Astros rally against José Berríos.

"To be honest, that was the highlight to my day," said fellow outfielder Max Kepler. "And I’m very proud of him to have to do that in that situation in the playoffs, to come in -- never played a big league game in your career -- and to do what he did, make a play defensively, get a knock and then a line drive which I was surprised got caught."

Try this out for size, though: Kirilloff, the No. 27 prospect in baseball, came to the plate for the first time as a big leaguer with the bases loaded in the first inning of an elimination playoff game against the defending AL champions, with the Twins searching for a big postseason hit 16 years in the making. No pressure, right?

Kirilloff hit a broken-bat flyout to center in that first at-bat as the Twins stranded the bases loaded in the first inning for the second straight day. Kirilloff later made his mark on the game, anyway.

Kirilloff's 105.9 mph line drive to right off Jose Urquidy with two outs in the fourth not only marked the Twins' first hit of the game, but also the hardest-hit ball by either team to that point.

Kirilloff was the No. 15 overall selection in the 2016 MLB Draft out of Plum High School in the Pittsburgh area, and he hit .317/.365/.498 across four Minor League levels despite missing the entire 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Widely considered one of the top pure-hitting prospects in the Minors, Kirilloff topped out in 94 games with Double-A Pensacola last season, hitting .283/.343/.413 with nine homers and 18 doubles.

"We have great faith in him," manager Rocco Baldelli said before the game. "We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think very highly of Alex Kirilloff’s ability, both as a player and as a guy, as a person. He’s a very talented ballplayer. He’s got a tremendous offensive ceiling. He can really swing the bat. He’s got power to all fields.

"We’re obviously locked in on putting our lineup out there and putting our best folks out there right now, and we think our best lineup today has Alex Kirilloff in there."

Throughout his Minor League career, Kirilloff was never known for his defense -- but he showed that off, too.

Following Carlos Correa's leadoff infield single in the fifth, Josh Reddick flared a ball into right-center, between Kirilloff and Kepler in center field. Tracking the ball through a stiff 19 mph wind, Kirilloff covered 98 feet in 5.4 seconds to make a sliding grab, record the first out and hold the runner at first.

Berríos struck out Martín Maldonado and retired George Springer on a groundout, completing five innings of one-run ball with Kirilloff's help.

"He played like a vet, and even though the circumstances are a lot different, today was big for us, and we needed everything that he contributed, and I’m proud of him," Kepler said. "I’m proud of him, and I see a bright future for the kid."