MINNEAPOLIS — At this point, the Twins say there’s not much more that can be done physically for Alex Kirilloff‘s problematic right wrist. They just need the former top prospect to adapt to the wrist’s new post-surgical state, and they feel the right way to do that is with more consistent playing time than what he’ll see in the big leagues.
That’s why the Twins optioned Kirilloff on Saturday to Triple-A St. Paul, where they hope the 24-year-old will be able to regain the form that once had him ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the organization before he established himself as a Major League regular last April.
“I don’t think the best thing for him is to be in a rotation right now,” manager Rocco Baldelli said before Minnesota’s 3-2 loss to Cleveland. “He’s healthy. He’s in a good spot physically. But hitting, just getting to the plate and figuring that out, that’s going to happen with at-bats. That’s what we’re going to do.”
It’s been a frustrating (and long-lasting) situation for Kirilloff without any clear answer or precedents communicated to him.
The former first-round pick can swing, but there’s still discomfort, and he thinks that his swing does feel different from how it did before the surgery. He’s just not able to pinpoint the exact ways in which it feels different. It might be physical. It might be mental. It’s likely some combination of both.
The Twins have insisted all along that Kirilloff has a clean bill of health, with no structural damage found when he went back on the IL due to persistent soreness in the wrist in April. He said at the time that he was still having “a lot of pain” while swinging and that it felt difficult for him to be effective in that condition.
He received another cortisone shot and returned feeling better, he said — but he’s still been a shadow of his former self.
“Yeah, I mean, so the doctor said they’ve realized it takes some time for power hitters — especially power hitters, to adjust,” Kirilloff said. “So I’m not sure how many similar guys have had a similar injury or not, but I know that it kind of feels like I’m still in an adjustment period.”
Kirilloff was 5-for-29 (.172) without an extra-base hit this season. His average exit velocity is significantly down, from 91.0 mph last season to 86.7 mph in ’22. He’s rolling over almost everything, with a 70.6 percent ground-ball rate so far this season. He has yet to hit a “barrel” — the optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle.
Following last July’s surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist, there was hope that he would be back to normal this year — but that road back has had hiccups every step of the way. When he first tried to build back up in November, he felt discomfort and shut himself back down for a month. There was also that IL stint in April, when he said he still hadn’t been able to swing pain-free since the surgery.
He now talks about the wrist not in terms of hopefully swinging without discomfort, but more in terms of accepting that the discomfort could continue to persist at times, and he’ll need to be mentally prepared for that.
“Overall, I can swing,” Kirilloff said. “I feel like I can be effective, but I still feel like I’m in a little bit of a transition period to figuring it out after the surgery.”
He said that doctors had found an area in the wrist where the cartilage was mostly gone, and they were working to create more space between bones that were closely interacting, contributing to the pain.
There is another procedure that could create that space, he said, but it’s more invasive and involves shortening his ulna altogether by breaking and cutting out a section of the bone — but that would only come into play if things regressed to where he was before the cortisone shot or the surgery.
Right now, he’s optimistic that he’s feeling better, trending in the right direction and that it won’t eventually come to that.
“Obviously, I hope it doesn’t get to that point. It’s just kind of about monitoring it, and hopefully a cortisone short or two, not more, is only what it’ll take for it to feel pretty much close to normal again,” Kirilloff said. “But I’m optimistic, the way it feels now, and I’m going to keep working at it.”
The Twins need Kirilloff to get right — both for 2022 and for their long-term future, in which he figures to be the club’s fixture at first base and corner outfield. He’s a very important part of that future — and the club hopes this reset will be what it takes to bring him back as a key part of the present.