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Twins can claim production, not service time, is why Alex Kirilloff won’t start season in majors

Alex Kirilloff
Minnesota Twins right fielder Alex Kirilloff (19) bats against the Tampa Bay Rays during a spring training baseball game Saturday, March 13, 2021, in Port Charlotte, Fla.. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Twins’ decision to not to offer Eddie Rosario a contract for the 2021 season last December, opened the door for rookie Alex Kirilloff to take over in left field. It made perfect sense. Kirilloff, 23, was the second-ranked prospect in the Twins’ organization by MLB.com and had become the first position player in Major League history to get his first big-league hit in the postseason. That came in Game 2 of the Twins’ two-game playoff loss to Houston.

The only issue — and it was a big one — was whether the Twins’ brain trust would be willing to have Kirilloff on its 26-man Opening Day roster and thus begin the clock on his big-league service time. This has been an issue with many top prospects (the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., are two examples) who have been held back briefly so they don’t get credited with a full season of service.

The expectation was Kirilloff would have a strong spring training and if he did get sent out we could point to service-time manipulation (and the Twins) as the culprit. Instead, Kirilloff made the decision easy for the Twins to sell.

Kirilloff was optioned to the team’s alternate training site in St. Paul on Tuesday after slashing .129/.182/.258 with two extra-base hits and eight strikeouts in 12 games. What should have been a heated debate about the Twins’ motives becomes a difficult decision to argue. Kirilloff’s struggles shouldn’t be considered shocking since he spent all of last year — at least until the wild card round — not able to play in games because there was no minor league season.

This year the minor league season won’t start until May 4, or at least it won’t start until then for the Twins’ new Triple-A affiliate in St. Paul. There is a good chance that Kirilloff is called up before ever getting a minor league at-bat since a player needs to be on the major league roster 172 days out of the 187 that a typical major league season usually lasts to be credited with a year of service time. That’s about three weeks, or before the Saints will begin.

This move means Kirilloff will be under team control through the 2027 season. That could change depending on what happens with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will need to be negotiated after this season. It’s likely the subject of service time will be one of many points of contention that could lead to a lengthy strike or lockout.

Meanwhile, the Twins must figure out who will be their starting left fielder now that Rosario is in Cleveland. Options include Brent Rooker, Kyle Garlick or Jake Cave. It’s likely to be a combination of some sort. Garlick, 29, was claimed off waivers from Atlanta in February and has hit .333/.355/.815 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 13 games this spring. Rooker has slashed .320/.333/.560 with with one homer and three RBIs in 13 games and Cave, who also is the Twins’ backup center fielder to Byron Buxton, has hit .143/.357/.190 with an RBI in 10 games.

The Twins really like Garlick and might give him a chance, but odds are he will be only a placeholder for Kirilloff.