FORT MYERS, FLA. – Alex Kirilloff will not be the Twins left fielder on Opening Day, the team announced Tuesday by optioning him instead to their alternate training site in St. Paul. Which raises the question: Who will?
The answer might be Brent Rooker, or could be Kyle Garlick, or perhaps Jake Cave. And don't forget Keon Broxton. At least two, and perhaps three, of those outfielders are now likely to make the Twins' 26-man roster, and manager Rocco Baldelli figures to keep the position in flux for a while, possibly even including Luis Arraez or Willians Astudillo in the mix.
"We have some very good options, guys we believe in, guys that we think can handle the role in left field but also some other roles, too," Baldelli said. "All of those guys have either had good success at the major league level, or we think are prepared to have a lot of success. We could turn to any one of them and be in a very good spot.
For Kirilloff, his spot will be at CHS Field in St. Paul, the same place he spent last summer, at least for a while. Twins prospects will train there for a month, in case the major league team needs to summon injury replacements, then form the nucleus of the St. Paul Saints, the Twins' top farm team, once the Class AAA season begins, tentatively set for May 4.
"If we need Alex on the second day of the year because something happens, and that's the right move, I don't think we'll hesitate to make that move," Baldelli said. "I truly believe he will be ready to go in all regards whenever that time comes. And I'm looking forward to it, to be honest with you."
Finding a left fielder to replace Eddie Rosario was the Twins' most obvious task of the spring, and Kirilloff, at 23 the organization's top-rated hitting prospect, was considered the favorite for the job, especially after the team showed enough faith in him to call him up for the playoffs and start him in Game 2 against the Astros.
But the former first-round pick has not performed as the team had hoped this spring, having only four hits in 31 at-bats, albeit with a double and a long home run, and drawn only one walk.
That .129 average, .182 on-base percentage and .258 slugging percentage has become even more conspicuous in comparison with the strong performances by Rooker, Garlick and Broxton, albeit in a similarly limited number of opportunities. Rooker, who appeared in seven games with the Twins last season before being hit by a pitch that broke a bone in his forearm, has batted .320 in 25 at-bats this spring, and Garlick has displayed impressive power, crushing a team-leading four home runs while hitting .333 over 27 at-bats. Broxton is the best defensive player of the group, and is hitting .348 in 23 at-bats.
"It's part of the discussion," Baldelli said of Kirilloff's comparatively slow spring. "But it's certainly not just simply results in spring training, that's not what it's all about."
The demotion of Kirilloff figures to sparks speculation that the move is intended to keep him from being credited with a full season of experience this summer, which would mean he would need to play seven seasons before becoming eligible for free agency, not six. Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey has denied that several times.
"Our goal is to figure out a way to put the best roster together that we think can impact us over the course of a season," Falvey said. "We're out there trying to compete, we're trying to win, and we're going to figure out a way to do that. That's been our focus."
Likely factoring in the decision: Kirilloff has never played a game at the Triple-A level. He spent 2019 at Class AA Pensacola, and the 2020 minor league season was canceled, so that playoff game at Target Field last fall, when Kirilloff went 1-for-4 in his MLB debut, is the only non-spring training game action he has seen in nearly 18 months.
"What we really want is for Alex to start his career off at the major league level on a good note, where he's feeling good and he's locked in and he's ready to go, and then never look back," Baldelli said. "And I have no doubt that we're going to find that point."