Alex Kirilloff grew up hitting baseballs. A lot of baseballs. His father owns an indoor hitting facility, and having been home-schooled for much of his life, the top prospect in the Minnesota Twins system not named Royce Lewis would often accompany dad to work. He didn’t sit around reading comic books while he was there.
“I was blessed to have access to a cage, and I took advantage of that,” Kirilloff told me prior to suiting up for this summer’s Futures Game. “We had these big Iron Mike machines that would hold something like 600 balls in the hopper and I would hit two or three of those a day.”
This past season, he banged out a steady stream of hits against Florida State League and Midwest League pitching. Playing 65 games each in Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids, the left-handed-hitting outfielder stroked 107 singles, 49 doubles, seven triples, and 20 home runs. His slash line was a scary .348/.392/.578.
In terms of hands-on molding, Kirilloff isn’t Frankenstein’s monster. His hitting-instructor father didn’t skimp on pointers, but he also understood that a swing has to come naturally.
“His knowledge and what the Lord has blessed me with has brought my swing to where it is today,” said Kirilloff, who celebrated his 21st birthday a month ago. “I’m not a huge mechanical guy. I mostly focus on timing, rhythm, and vision. So really, a lot of my development has been on my own, with my dad critiquing here and there.”
There have been tweaks over the years. The 2016 first-rounder has a less-spread-out stance than he once did, and he’s also added a leg lift. Moreover, he’s “a little more subtle in the box” with his upper half.
“My biggest timing mechanism is still my hands, but they don’t move as much as they used to,” explained Kirilloff. “They’re just going until they come to the place where they need to be in order to fire, or trigger if you will. They’re the timing mechanism for the swing itself, whereas my legs are more for the rest of my body.”
The body of work he’s put together has been especially impressive considering that he missed all of 2017 after going under the knife. Less than a year after being drafted 15th overall, the Pittsburgh native had Tommy John surgery. It proved to be little more than a bump in the road.
“Take a look at his stat line,” Twins Executive VP Derek Falvey told me when asked for an assessment of the youngster’s attributes. “Not that stats tell you everything, but he has a really advanced approach for his age. This is a guy who not only knows his swing, and can drive the ball the other way, he has a unique plan relative to each pitcher. You don’t see that a lot in A ball. He just has a really good feel for what he’s trying to do at the plate. And it obviously translates.”
In terms of overall talent, Taylor Trammell is just as good, if not better, than Alex Kirilloff. The Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect is ranked No. 13 on our Top 100 list, two spots in front of his Minnesota Twins contemporary. Two months older than Kiriloff, he was drafted 35th overall in 2017 out of a Kennesaw, Georgia high school.
Trammell didn’t put up monster numbers this year — his left-handed stroke produced a .277/.375/.406 slash line at High-A Daytona — but his raw tools stand out like a sore thumb. As our dynamic-duo prospect team wrote earlier this week, Trammell has plus-plus speed and “put on a shocking display of power during BP at the Futures Game.” That he left the yard just eight times as a Tortuga should by no means slow him down going forward.
Speed came up when I asked the well-spoken former two-sport stalwart if he considers hitting more of an art or more of a science.
“I’d say it’s more of an art,” answered Trammell, who rushed for 36 touchdowns as a high school senior. “I don’t like to think too much about mechanics, which you’d classify as being the science part. All I know is that I have to get my foot down and be able to hit his fastest pitch.”
That last sentence isn’t entirely true. He also knows that he needs to lay off pitcher’s pitches, which is another of his skills — “excellent plate discipline” being among the plaudits on his Reds Top Prospects profile. I asked Trammell if that trait is something he’s learned, or if it’s mostly innate.
“Plate discipline is something that comes with time,” was his response. “The pitchers get better with their stuff, but I also get better as a hitter. I’ve seen a lot of pitches since getting to pro ball. I don’t have an exact number of how many pitches I’ve seen, but I do know that I’m recognizing them better. I’m more comfortable in the box.”
Something he’s not comfortable with is what is commonly referred to as a launch angle swing. Trammell tried attacking the baseball in that manner during his time as a prep, but found that it wasn’t his cup of tea. He returned to his comfort zone — “I have good hands and like to think my swing is pretty short” — after just a few games.
That brings us back to the art-or-science question, and an eloquent elaboration from the up-and-coming outfielder.
“I’ve swung a bat hundreds of thousands of times,” said Trammell. “I know my swing to where it’s become second nature. Everybody is different. I think of it like a signature. Some guys have a big leg kick. Some guys have a long stride, while other guys have a short stride. It’s their signature, their art form.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
So far I’ve learned — among other things — that were it not for Johnny Pesky, Lolich would have signed with the New York Yankees instead of the Detroit Tigers. A few years after making that decision, Lolich refused to accept a demotion to Double-A and returned home with plans to become a mailman. Talked into giving baseball another shot, he then jumpstarted his career while on loan to a Kansas City A’s affiliate (yes, such things happened in the early 1960s).
Lolich went on to win three games for the Tigers in the 1968 World Series, including the Game 7 clincher over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals. The first of the three wins came in Game 2, which Lolich nearly had to be scratched from because of was then reported as “a groin condition.” It was… in a sense.
“My problem was a boil on my whatchamacallit,” Lolich explained in the book. “It was a bothersome boil, but I pressed on regardless… We couldn’t afford to go two games down. Give me the damn ball.”
Two weeks into the Australian Baseball League season, Gift Ngoepe leads all hitters with an 1.137 OPS. The former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder — a 28-year-old native of South Africa — is playing with the Sydney Blue Sox.
The Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation will be honoring John Barr, Ken Compton, Jim Hendry, Bill Schmidt, Logan White, and Tim Wilken in January. All will receive Legends in Scouting awards.
Herm Schneider, Brian Ball, and Brett Walker (White Sox) have been named the 2018 MLB Athletic Training Staff of the Year by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainer Society.
The Triple-A Las Vegas 51st are being rebranded as the Las Vegas Aviators. Now affiliated with the Oakland A’s, the Aviators will be playing a newly-constructed ballpark in Summerlin, Nevada, which is in located in Las Vegas Valley.
If you’re going to the Baseball Winter Meetings, the Baseball Industry Network will be having a meet-up from 8:00-10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 11 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
In the opinion of Dino Ebel, the eye test is telling — at least when it comes to determining whether or not a young player is ready for prime time. That was evident in a conversation I had with the veteran coach this past summer. Ebel was with the Angels at the time — he’s since being hired by the Dodgers — and I asked if he could give a recent example of a call-up who shown more than was maybe expected from him. He named 23-year-old Michael Hermosillo.
“If you just look at numbers, he hasn’t been getting a lot of hits, but he’s putting the ball in play, he’s playing good defense, and he’s running the bases well,” Ebel told me. “He’e also got that look on his face, and the mannerisms. When the lights go on and the game starts, there are things you see from the dugout. You can see that look that says, ‘I belong here.’”
Hermosillo appeared in 31 games for the Halos and slapped 12 hits in 57 at bats.He went into the year ranked as the club’s No. 11 prospect.
Steve Dalkowski is arguably the most famous — “infamous” might be a better word choice here — player to never reach the big leagues. The troubled southpaw is said to have thrown harder than anyone in history… and had GPS existed he might have found the strike zone with some semblance of regularity. In 1958 — the second of Dalkowski’s nine minor-league seasons — he had 232 strikeouts, and 245 walks, in 118 innings.
His 1963 season isn’t nearly as legendary, but Rochester Red Wings broadcaster Josh Whetzel has a great story about it, courtesy of his former radio partner.
“When Joe Altobelli played for the Red Wings in 1963, he had already played his last MLB game and was viewed as a wise veteran by Baltimore,” said Whetzel. “Consequently, for part of that year the Orioles had him room on the road with Dalkowski, thinking that maybe some of Alto’s leadership could help the rough-around-the-edges pitcher.
“One time they were on the road, with an early morning flight the next day. Joe got back to his room after the game, and no sign of Dalkowski. The flame-throwing lefty eventually showed up, just before the team was to bus to the airport for their flight back to Rochester. However, he reeked of alcohol and was so inebriated that Joe had to help him put all of this stuff in his suitcase for the trip.
“Joe got Dalkowski on the bus for the ride to the airport and thought everything was going to go smoothly, that their manager, Darrell Johnson, wouldn’t notice anything amiss. It didn’t take long for that hope to end. As soon as the bus turned out of the hotel parking lot, Dalkowski—who was passed out in his seat — tilted over out of his seat and into the aisle.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
In an effort to improve the synergy between the baseball analytics group and field staff, the St. Louis Cardinals have hired Joey Prebynski to serve as a game-planning coach. Jennifer Langosch has some specifics at MLB.com.
At the Los Angeles Daily News, JP Hoornstra wrote about a research study involving the aerodynamic properties of MLB baseballs.
The Rays have hired a “process and analytics” coach, and Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times addressed what Jonathan Erlichman’s responsibilities will be in the newly-created role.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
In 1987, the Minnesota Twins went 29-52 on the road during the regular season. They went 2-4 on the road during the postseason. They won the World Series.
On December 9, 1965, the Cincinnati Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles. In 1966, Robinson led the American League in runs scored, batting average, home runs, RBIs, total bases, OBP, and slugging percentage.
Omar Vizquel had 77 triples, 77 home runs, and 900 RBIs as a shortstop.
Opposing batters slashed .211/.268/.337 against Pedro Martinez third time through the order.
Forty pitchers have thrown 4,000-or-more innings. Dennis Martinez threw 3,999-and-two-thirds innings.
Pat Mahomes lost all four of his career decisions against Kansas City.
Jimmie Foxx pitched in 10 games and had a 1.52 ERA over 23-and-two-thirds innings. He also homered 534 times.
Fenton Mole played for the 1949 Yankees. His nickname was Muscles.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.