Alex Kirilloff on Thursday reminded everyone why he's the Twins' top hitting prospect.
In the second inning, Kirilloff drilled an Eduardo Rodriguez pitch over the fence in dead center field for his first home run of spring training. It was an impressive drive as the lefthanded Kirilloff connected off Rodriguez, Boston's talented lefthander.
Before that, Kirilloff was 2-for-13 with an eye-opening five strikeouts and didn't look like someone ready to go north with the big club. Thursday's strike helps his case to spend the summer in the Twin Cities.
I'm already north, having ended my stint in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday. While watching some previous Kirilloff at-bats, it appeared that he was giving the club an excuse to start him at St. Paul for a couple of weeks and make Jake Cave the Opening Day left fielder. But there are 18 games remaining and plenty of time for Kirilloff to earn his spot. Let it play out.
Kirilloff was among a few things I focused on during my time at camp. Here are some other observations:
Sano needs at-bats
Miguel Sano, the burly first baseman, entered Friday batting .143 with no home runs, no walks and seven strikeouts.
The offseason was a quiet one for Sano, as he worked on his swing with Fernando Tatis Sr. and hired a cook to make him meals, the idea being he would report to camp in better shape.
Well, he showed up in shape, looking about the same as he did a year ago. But his swing looks like it's packed on some pounds, as he's struggling to get his timing and is getting beat by fastballs. There's time for him to get his swing going — because he needs it to.
How big a bullpen?
There's been speculation that the Twins will take anywhere from 12 to 14 pitchers north. So the work of the relievers has been watched closely from the press box. I'm not too worried about Alex Colome or Cody Stashak struggling early. Hansel Robles has one walk and four strikeouts through four innings, but he's given up seven hits. Fixing Robles and having him join Colome, Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers to handle the late innings would make things easier on manager Rocco Baldelli. Lewis Thorpe is in great shape and has pitched well. Randy Dobnak also has been effective. Both loom as innings eaters or spot starters out of the bullpen, which could determine how many relievers they will need. How the bullpen shakes out will be a big story line over the final weeks of camp.
Berrios on a mission
Jose Berrios arrived in Fort Myers focused on preparing for the best season of his career. So far, he's pitched like it. he has thrown five scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. He's been a machine, and he wants to take his preparation and focus into the regular season. Both of his curveballs have been working, and he hit 97 mph with his fastball a few times during his Wednesday outing. Berrios and Kenta Maeda could form a nice 1-2 combo at the top of the Twins rotation, with Michael Pineda, Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ filling out a more-than-capable group.
There's no such thing as a set lineup these days, as managers look to keep their starters fresh and research departments print out data-driven batting order suggestions based on opposing pitcher, stadium dimensions and if the moon is full, half, crescent or gibbous.
Watching Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson hit homers during spring games makes one wonder how Baldelli is going to fill out his lineup card. Let's say Kirilloff makes the Opening Day lineup in left field. The Twins will have just three lefthanded hitters: Kirilloff, Jorge Polanco at second and Max Kepler in right. Baldelli will have to bunch righthanded hitters somewhere. With Andrelton Simmons, who batted ninth in half his games last season, on board, where does Byron Buxton hit? Eighth? Sixth? First? Luis Arraez's bat needs to be in there a much as possible.
Baldelli used 54 different lineups in 60 games last season. He might use 154 to get through 162 games this season.