Home-schooled Kirilloff could land in 1st round
Pennsylvania prep outfielder takes online classes, excels for local high school team
PITTSBURGH -- Alex Kirilloff's path to the Draft is not the typical one, but it's seeming more and more likely it's going to end where every amateur player dreams of landing: squarely in the first round.
In many ways, Kirilloff is the typical highly-thought of prep player, putting up gaudy numbers on a high school team in front of tons of scouts, hanging out and texting with his friends. But then the story diverges from the typical plot.
While the sweet-swinging left-handed outfielder plays for Plum High School, just outside of Pittsburgh, he does not attend classes there. Instead he studies at home, part of the Pennsylvania Cyber School, a public charter school with online courses. His daily schedule isn't exactly the norm.
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"My routine in the morning consists of me waking up between 8 and 9 usually. I try to switch it up, whether I'm doing it in my room, downstairs, sometimes go out to a Panera or a Starbucks," Kirilloff said. "I'm usually doing work in the morning to about 11-12, then I have the rest of the day to do the rest of my business.
"Typically, on game days, I usually get done with my work, eat lunch, go to the field, take batting practice and play the game."
He plays it extremely well. A mainstay on the summer showcase circuit, Kirilloff opened many eyes with his easy power from the left side, winning the home run derby at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego. Through 19 games for Plum this spring (all wins), he's slashing .544/.645/1.000 with three homers and 23 RBIs. He has more extra-base hits (17) than singles (14) and has walked 17 times while striking out just once.
He's "done what he's supposed to," as one scout put it, this spring, separating himself from some other high school hitters and attracting a ton of attention from teams picking all over the first round, as high as the top 10.
How is it that a kid who has been home schooled for most of his life -- with a five-year exception at tiny Cheswick Christian Academy -- could become such a good hitter? That's where his path takes another unusual turn.
Kirilloff's father, David, was a solid amateur in his own right, but his career ended because of a blood clot disorder. He did some scouting and got into coaching before eventually finding his true passion: teaching hitting. He's run an indoor facility for baseball and softball players for years and his son, Alex, has been his prime pupil for nearly his entire life.
"As soon as he started to stand up, and I have a passion for baseball, I had him hit off the batting tee at 11 months old," David Kirilloff said. "Being in a family business of running an indoor facility for baseball and softball, he was always around it. In his free time, he was hitting in the cages. We found, at a young age, he could play a couple of years ahead of his age. That's where it formulated and I was fortunate enough to have some travel teams where I could play him ahead of his years."
"It's been a huge advantage for me, especially geographically where we live," Alex Kirilloff added, referring to the bad weather conditions. "Being able to access that, being able to wake up any given day and be able to go there and hit when I want to, when I feel like I need to, even with your routine in the offseason, is huge. Having my dad, and having the access to him that I have, to be able to have him to coach me and give me the advice that I need with my hitting has been a blessing."
At age eight, Kirilloff was playing with a 12-year-old team. When he reached ninth grade, he became an instant member on Plum's varsity team, despite never setting foot in one of the school's classrooms. That situation could have caused friction or animosity, but watching Kirilloff interact with his teammates makes it clear there is nothing but camaraderie now.
"It's been a build up over the years," Kirilloff said. "Being a freshman, not knowing anyone and going into winter workouts, it was a little different at first, but I've never had a problem making friends or building relationships. That's just the type of person I am.
"Overall, the team was very welcoming. Once you start playing, they see you can really help our team, that helps it out a lot. Now, some of my best friends that I hang out with are on the team. I'm not at school with them all day, but we talk, we call, we text, we hang out outside of baseball and school. It's a different situation obviously, but it's one that I enjoy and I'm embracing."
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He and his family are also embracing the Draft process, which can often unravel even the most even-keeled player and parents. With deep roots in their faith, the Kirilloffs have been able to largely avoid those kinds of pitfalls.
"I was getting nervous, worked up about who was going to be at the games, what's going to happen if I don't perform well," Kirilloff admitted. "Through that faith, it's really helped calm me down and take things as they are, control only what you can control and not worry about the rest. It's my senior year in high school, our team is doing great this year. We had the chance to go on a great run. It's a really good time in my life right now. I'm just trying to enjoy it, enjoy the process and make the best of it."
"Honestly, when I look back at him and how he's handling things, I get warm inside," David Kirilloff said. "I try to take notes from him and say 'Wow, he's really doing a great job.' Maybe better than I could do or my wife could do. It's sometimes breathtaking to watch him handle [all the attention]. He's very grounded in his faith, we're very happy in that regard."
The last time a Pittsburgh-area high school player was this high on Draft boards was 2004. That's when the Pirates took Pine-Richland High School product Neil Walker out of their own backyard with the 11th overall pick. The Pirates have pick No. 22 this June and while there are clearly teams ahead of them interested in Kirilloff's bat, there's no question Kirilloff has let his mind drift in that direction.
"It's kind of a dream growing up, watching Neil Walker play, being a Pirate fan," Kirilloff said. "It would be cool, it would be really really special, but it's not something you can consume yourself with. You have to keep playing, whatever happens in June, happens in June. You can't control what team is going to take you. It would be great to play for the team you grew up rooting for, but it's not the end of the world if you don't."