With Byron Buxton out for the season, and Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez, and Jake Cave nursing injuries of varying severity, the Twins have had to give significant playing time to players who spent most of the season in the minor leagues.
LaMonte Wade Jr., Ian Miller, and Ryan LaMarre all saw action in Minnesota’s critical series against Cleveland last weekend. While they’re capable players—Wade Jr. in particular has played well—it’s obviously not an ideal situation for the Twins. Buxton is out for the year after surgery on his ailing left shoulder. An MRI on Kepler’s scap muscle showed inflammation but was otherwise clean. That’s good news for the Twins, though inflammation isn’t insignificant, and Kepler may have to miss time during the critical six-game stretch against Washington and Cleveland. Gonzalez’s injury has lingered for weeks, and though he’s now taking light swings in the cage, it appears he’s at least a week away from playing.
The Twins, then, appear to be entering a six-game stretch against Washington—one of the hottest teams in baseball and the NL Wild Card leaders—and Cleveland without most of their outfield. They do, of course, have a top-100 outfield prospect at Double-A whose season just ended.
Alex Kirilloff had a solid 2019 in his first stint in prospect-rich Double-A. After battling injuries in the early part of 2019, he finished the season slashing .283/.343/.413. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. His bat heated up considerably in the final month of the season, during which he slashed .309/.358/.491 with five doubles and five homers in 110 at-bats. In Pensacola’s season-ending five-game playoff series loss to Biloxi, he went 8-for-21 with four home runs and a double.
In other words, Kirilloff is in the middle of the type of hot streak he seemed to have throughout all of 2018, when he slashed .348/.392/.578, which earned him a top-10 prospect ranking by MLB.com heading into 2019. Kirilloff can really hit, and as a left-handed slugging right fielder, he could presumably step in for Kepler in a way no one on the current roster could.
There are plenty of arguments against calling him up, though. One, they’d have to add him to the 40-man roster. That would mean DFA’ing a player, or calling up Nick Gordon and placing him on the 60-day IL. It would also mean adding Kirilloff to the 40-man a year earlier than he needs to be added. They wouldn’t burn an option year this year by adding him, but they’d likely burn an option next year, assuming he starts 2020 in Triple-A. Two, it’s asking a lot of a 21-year-old who hasn’t played above Double-A to adjust to major league pitching on the fly in the middle of a pennant race. Kirilloff is hugely talented, but would he be a significant short-term upgrade over a seasoned veteran like Ryan LaMarre, who has major league experience and hit over .300 in Triple-A? Would he be able to handle the pressure of important September baseball? The Twins opted to thrust Brusdar Graterol into a pennant race, but Graterol had significantly more time to build up to the big leagues in the minors and acclimate slowly once he was called up. Kirilloff, if he were promoted, would likely be inserted directly into the lineup as an everyday player.
Ultimately, it may depend on how long Kepler’s out. If the inflammation is severe enough that he’s going to miss a week or more, it would make sense to roll the dice and hope he can handle the moment and hit for power in a way LaMarre and Wade can’t. If Kepler returns within a week, though, the few games Kirilloff would start in his place probably wouldn’t be worth it.
On Sunday, the Boston Red Sox fired President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, one year after winning the World Series. It was a surprising move given the success the Red Sox had under Dombrowski, but Boston sports is a different animal, and the disappointing 2019 season surely contributed to his ousting, though there’s been speculation other factors may have been at play as well.
In a piece in The Athletic, legendary writer Peter Gammons–who’s as plugged in to the Red Sox as anyone in the media—argues that Boston needs to rebuild a collaborative culture that was lost under Dombrowski. Twins CBO Derek Falvey, of course, often talks about the importance of building just such a culture with the Twins. Falvey represents a new generation of GMs that strive for open communication between the many departments in an organization, and lean heavily on analytics in their decision-making process (Red Sox Manager Alex Cora denied that there was a disconnect between Dombrowski, who comes from an older generation of GMs, and Boston’s analytics department). In three years, Falvey’s helped turn the franchise from a 103-loss laughingstock into one on the precipice of winning the AL Central.
A number of outlets have already cited Falvey as a top candidate for the job, both because of the work he’s done with the Twins, and his Boston roots. Falvey grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, and went to Trinity College in Connecticut. He’s young, talented, and local, with a track record of success. He will surely be under strong consideration.
Boston is a dream job for any baseball executive. With a huge payroll, passionate fans, and a history of winning, it rivals the Dodgers and Yankees in prestige. The fact that Falvey grew up as a Red Sox fan in the area presumably puts it at the very top of his list, though that’s speculation.
If Falvey did leave for Boston, it would obviously be a huge blow for the Twins organization, which has gone from the dark ages in terms of analytics and forward-thinking to being one of the more progressive, innovative organizations in the game. While Falvey and Co. haven’t been perfect—their failure to acquire a starter at the trade deadline stands out as a significant misstep—it would be foolish not to give significant credit to the new regime for the organization’s turnaround. Twins fans will surely be paying careful attention to Boston’s search for a new front office leader this fall.
With the aforementioned Red Sox falling out of contention for the Wild Card, and the Yankees and Astros having all but locked up the one and two seeds in the American League, there are essentially four teams fighting for three playoff spots. The Twins and Indians, of course, have been in a season-long battle for the Central. The Rays and A’s currently hold the two Wild Card spots, with Cleveland just a half-game behind.
The goal, of course, is to win the Central, and with a five-game lead, the Twins are in good position to do so. That lead could be reduced in a hurry, though, with six games against the Nationals and Indians on the way. As such, it makes sense to keep a close eye on the Rays and A’s as well, who could be competing with the Twins for a spot in the play-in game if the Indians make a late-season surge to take the division.
Here’s how the four teams currently stack up, along with their remaining schedules:
Tampa Bay 86-59 (3 GB)
Oakland 84-60 (4.5 GB)
Cleveland 84-61 (5 GB)
Minnesota: WAS (3), @ CLE (3), CHW (3), KC (4), @ DET (3), @ KC (3)
Tampa Bay: @ TEX (3) @ LAA (3), @ LAD (3), BOS (4), NYY (2), @ TOR (3)
Oakland: @ HOU (3), @ TEX (3), KC (3), TEX (3) @ LAA (2) @ SEA (4)
Cleveland: @ LAA (2), MIN (3), DET (3), PHI (3), @ CHW (3), @ WAS (3)
The Twins certainly have the easiest schedule among the four, but Cleveland’s may not be as difficult as the records of their opponents indicate. The Angels will be without Mike Trout (toe injury) for the entirety of the Cleveland series. Philadelphia, currently three games back in the NL wild card race, could be out of contention by the time they visit Cleveland. And while the Indians’ road series with the Nationals to end the year looms large, Washington currently has a 2.5 game lead on the Cubs for home-field advantage in the Wild Card game, and a 4.5 game lead on the Brewers for the second wild card spot. Given that they have no shot to win their division, there’s a pretty decent chance the Nationals will be locked into the Wild Card game by the time that series occurs, meaning they’d likely rest key position players and not pitch their top starters.
The Twins are certainly in a great position to finish off what’s been a historic year, but there’s work left to be done before October plans are finalized.