Kirilloff making case for Opening Day spot

March 11th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Alex Kirilloff had gotten off to somewhat of a slow start at the plate this spring, but he's still got plenty of time to add to his résumé in his bid for the vacant left-field spot on the Twins' Opening Day roster.

Hitting more tape-measure blasts off the batter's eye will help with that.

Minnesota's No. 2 prospect isn't a big enough talker to state his case for breaking camp with the team, but his bat made plenty of noise instead when he crushed an Eduardo Rodríguez curveball an estimated 420 feet to dead center field in the second inning of the Twins' 5-4 loss to the Red Sox at Hammond Stadium on Thursday.

"Any time a ball is clanging off the batter's eye, it kind of makes everyone around the stadium, including the dugout, look around and nod in approval," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "It was a very nice swing. I think it's just a taste of what AK can do, but that's the kind of offensive potential that you're talking about. He has real ability with the bat in his hands."

Kirilloff is one of those top prospects who could normally have faced an uphill battle to crack the Opening Day roster, but Baldelli said at the start of camp that the 23-year-old outfielder would have the chance to earn "every opportunity" with his Spring Training performance -- and the Twins sure look to be treating and talking about him as someone who could break camp with the club.

Consider the way Baldelli discusses what Kirilloff can contribute to this team, for example. He thought "potential" was the wrong word to describe what the prospect brought to the table -- mostly because he felt it didn't properly indicate Kirilloff's advanced stage of development that could impact the big league roster.

"It's not exactly potential," Baldelli said. "He just hasn't had the opportunities yet at the Major League level to show what he can do. We think he's already a good offensive player. He's handled himself really well."

Kirilloff has also stayed on schedule with many of the players expected to appear on Opening Day for the Twins. He started in left field in the Grapefruit League opener alongside Byron Buxton and Max Kepler in the outfield, and he's mostly appeared in the heart of lineups that have also featured the likes of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz and Jorge Polanco.

Kirilloff did have five strikeouts through 15 plate appearances in his first six games -- rather uncharacteristic for him, considering that his advanced hit tool and bat control have led to low strikeout rates and an .863 OPS across his Minor League career. Even though he's only 3-for-16 (.188) in camp, Baldelli has remained impressed with both Kirilloff's approach and his mentality.

"We always talk about the way he goes about things, his type of personality that he has, the low heart rate kind of guy, not much affects him," Baldelli said. "Great way about him for the game of baseball. He shows that every day. He's a very consistent individual in the clubhouse and out on the field. So yeah, he's been fantastic."

It also helps Kirilloff's case that his primary competitors for the left field role -- Brent Rooker and Kyle Garlick -- both have remaining Minor League options, and Kirilloff's ability to play both corner outfield and first base is something that has already helped the Twins this spring, as he's started three games at first base and three in the outfield.

It could also factor in that the delayed Minor League season doesn't leave many live reps outside the big league roster for a player like Kirilloff who already missed an entire season's worth of games in 2020.

None of this is in Kirilloff's control, of course, but he does know one thing: He feels ready. His bat showed that again on Thursday.

"I feel comfortable," Kirilloff said at the start of camp. "I feel I’m able to compete at a high level."