MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins optioned prized prospect Alex Kirilloff to their alternate training site on Tuesday, leaving a wide-open competition for playing time in left field while giving the 2016 first-round draft pick more time to develop.
Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick and Brent Rooker are the primary candidates at that position, vacated when Eddie Rosario was not tendered a contract during the offseason. Luis Arraez, a natural infielder who has moved into a super-sub role this year, has also been in the mix in left field.
Kirilloff made his major league debut in last year’s postseason but has yet to appear in a regular-season game. Excluding him from the major league roster to start the year will allow the Twins to keep his service time clock from running and potentially delay his eligibility for free agency by a year. This issue has become increasingly tense between clubs and players following the union’s loss of a grievance against the Chicago Cubs for holding back third baseman Kris Bryant as a rookie in 2015.
Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey told reporters Sunday that service time wouldn’t factor into decisions about the roster.
“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. We’re out there trying to compete, we’re trying to win, and we’re going to figure out a way to do that,” Falvey said.
Kirilloff has four hits in 31 at-bats with one home run and eight strikeouts in spring training exhibitions, which didn’t help his cause to make the team out of camp. The COVID-19 pandemic that eliminated minor league competition last year didn’t help, either.
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Kirilloff, who finished 2019 in Double-A, performed so well at the team’s alternate training site last summer that he was included on the roster for the playoffs and achieved the rarity of making his debut in a postseason game. When Rosario was released, Kirilloff was widely viewed as the natural replacement, but the Twins obviously are not in a rush.
“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,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And I have no doubt that we’re going to find that point.”
Kirilloff is ranked as the 26th-best prospect in the game on this year’s MLB pipeline list, with only Royce Lewis (17th) ahead of him in the Twins organization. Lewis, a shortstop who was drafted with the first overall pick in 2017, will miss the 2021 season because of a torn ACL in his right knee.