Minnesota Sports

They Got Next: Why Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are Primed to get Minnesota Back into Contention

Minnesota Twins fans have no shortage of experience when it comes to failure and disappointment. The past two decades of Twins baseball have been mired with playoff meltdowns, abysmal 100-loss seasons, and have seen a variety of players fail to live up to expectations. While Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are still a year or more away from the big leagues, they have already provided much-needed hope for the future that Twins’ fans desperately could use.

Lewis was somewhat of a surprise selection in the 2017 MLB draft. Hunter Greene was a highly-touted prospect, who had electrifying stuff as a pitcher, and was seen as the no-doubt number one selection. But, the Twins opted to pick Lewis, the five-tool high school shortstop out of JSerra Catholic High School in California. In the midst of the skepticism, Lewis has shown why he deserved to be the number one pick. At the young age of 19, Lewis has produced at every level that he has been at in the Twins’ system, and is getting more and more attention from prospect rankings all around the internet. Recently, MLB.com ranked Lewis as the 5th overall prospect in all of baseball and the young shortstop has the numbers and potential to back up that ranking.

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Royce Lewis received the honor of being a top-five prospect in all of baseball and is looking to continue to climb the rankings. (Tom Hagerty/MiLB.com)

According to Baseball Reference, Lewis has slashed .288/.361/.438 with an OPS of .799 in his minor league career, which are solid numbers for a 19-year old. In 2018, Lewis batted .292 with 14 home runs and 74 RBI to go along with 28 stolen bases in 36 attempts, putting all of his tools on display. One of the most intriguing stats is Lewis’ ability to deliver in the clutch. When batting with two outs and runners in scoring position, the young shortstop delivered with a .903 OPS. His strong 2019 campaign did not go unnoticed as he was recognized with a MWL (Midwest League) postseason All-Star nod and was named the MWL prospect of the year. The only direction Lewis is headed is up ,and the Twins are hoping that the young stud can be their shortstop of the future to pair alongside another young and intriguing prospect in Alex Kirilloff.

Kirilloff, like Lewis, was a first-round pick selected 15th overall in the 2016 MLB draft. He played high school baseball at Plum High School in Plum, Pennsylvania, but did not attend classes there. He was a graduate of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, where he completed his academic classes online. Alex is a sweet-swinging lefty who brings a balanced attack at the plate and has put up some big numbers in the minor leagues, which has earned him a variety of awards and honors. The 21-year old is climbing the prospect rankings and has recently joined Lewis in the top ten of the MLB.com prospect rankings, coming in at number nine. The Twins and fans are very intrigued by Kirilloff, as he seems like the next big thing in the outfield (even drawing comparisons to NL MVP Christian Yelich). Ideally the Twins will be able to bring Kirilloff into the mix with the three young potential outfield studs they currently have, with Kepler or Kirilloff potentially moving to first base.

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Alex Kirilloff has high expectations, but looks primed to deliver so far. (Joshua Tjong/MiLB.com)

Kirilloff showed his promise very early in his minor league career. In his first professional season at the young age of 18 with the Elizabethton Twins, he hit .306/.341/.454 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 55 games, taking home the Appalachian League MVP. This all came in a season where his play was cut short by partial ligament tear in his elbow, which ultimately led to the dreaded Tommy John’s surgery. This caused him to miss the entire 2017 season, a cause for the downfall of many top prospects. Not only did Kirilloff bounce back after his surgery, he produced a monstrous campaign.

In 2018, he slashed an unreal .348/.392/.578 while hitting 20 home runs and driving in 101 runs in 130 games. In the month of July, after getting promoted to the Fort Myers Miracle (High-A), Kirilloff dominated. He batted an absurd .396 with 20 RBI and produced 16 extra base hits. Like his counterpart Lewis, Kirilloff too has produced great numbers with two outs and runners in scoring position. In 2018, he hit .301 in such situations with an .819 OPS. Kirilloff also showed an aptitude to hit southpaws, as against lefties he batted .361 with six homeruns and 31 runs batted in. When facing right-handed pitching he showed off his power, totaling 14 homers and 70 runs batted in. Many thought Kirilloff would be good, but he shattered all expectations with his 2018 season and looks ready to compete for a spot on the big-league roster in the near future.

While the numbers that both Lewis and Kirilloff are producing are very impressive, many may overlook just how special their performance has been. When it comes to their competition, Lewis and Kirilloff are playing against individuals who are older and who have more experience. According to Baseball Reference, in 2018 Lewis played for two teams, Fort Myers (High-A) and Cedar Rapids (Low-A). In those two leagues, the age difference for Lewis was -3.4 in Fort Myers and -2.4 in Cedar Rapids. This means that in Fort Myers, Royce was 3.4 years younger than the average player in the league. To put that into perspective, in 2018 Lewis had a total of 483 at-bats, and only two of those at bats came against pitchers that were younger than him. That means 99% of the time Lewis was facing a pitcher with more age and experience, he still was able to put up a high-quality .293/.353/.453 stat line on the year.

Kirilloff was just as impressive, as he played with both Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids. In Fort Myers, his age difference was -2.4 and in Cedar Rapids it was -1.4. He accumulated 512 at-bats in 2018, and just 30 came against pitchers who were younger. Against the older players Kirilloff excelled, slashing .353/.399/.593 as well as hitting all 20 of his homers and driving in 97 of his 101 RBIs.

The Twins already have a promising young core in the big leagues that has yet to reach its full potential. With the likes of potential break-out stars such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, the future looks very intriguing for Minnesota. This season feels like a make-or-break year for this core group as they haven’t shown the results that Twins’ fans and managment would like to see. However, the additions of Lewis and Kirilloff to this group could put the finishing pieces of the Falvey/Levine puzzle together and finally put the Twins back on the map.

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The Twins already have a strong young core and Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff would only make it stronger. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Regardless of what is currently happening at the big league level, the future is very bright for this young duo. Their minor league stats speak for themselves, and they have both received awards and have shot up prospect rankings everywhere. Both Lewis and Kirilloff have received invitations to this year’s spring training with the Twins, as they look to continue to showcase their incredible skillsets. With both players producing at very young ages, there is no telling what their respected ceilings could be. However, with each productive year that they have, these two future stars are destined to bring the Minnesota Twins back into contention.

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