Kirilloff’s spot at first base uncertain after Twins sign Santana

JUPITER, FLA. – Rocco Baldelli watched the wind blow toward home plate on Tuesday and made a prediction.

"I literally said to our hitting [coaches] before the game, we're going to have to hit some low line drives today because no one's going deep," Baldelli said.

It took him one pitch to be wrong.

Alex Kirilloff hit the game's first pitch, a knee-high fastball on the outside corner from Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, over the left field wall just inside the foul pole, an opposite-field home run that gave the Twins a quick lead over the Cardinals.

"AK has such good opposite-field power. He just has that snap in his swing, where he can just drive the ball," Baldelli said. "When he's going good, he's driving the ball that way. It's such a valuable skill."

So is playing defense, and that's where Kirilloff's future becomes less clear. He's started 97 games at first base, 64 in the outfield and six as the designated hitter throughout his career. Kirilloff has been focused almost exclusively on the infield this spring, but that's about to change.

"I've been doing some work in the outfield," Kirilloff said. "Just actually talked to Rocco about it today — I'm going to be starting out there soon, that's what he told me."

Versatility is the Twins' goal with many of their players, of course, but their desire to keep Kirilloff comfortable in the outfield might be a reflection of their signing last month of Carlos Santana, a Gold Glove finalist at first base last season. Baldelli won't say whom he prefers at the position, but it probably won't be hard to figure out once the season begins, especially if Kirilloff's hitting keeps him in the lineup.

"Whoever's the better defensive first baseman is going to play more at first base. I don't know any other way to put that," the manager said. "There will be a determination when the time comes, when we put our lineups together. Both are going to play a good amount of first base, but the guy who is doing the best job for us on that side of the ball is the one who's going to play more."

For now, Kirilloff said he's happy with how the spring is going, and he enjoyed the explosive start to the game.

"He was throwing away, so I just went with the pitch," he said. "Sometimes approaches change, sometimes you get lucky. I was just reacting to what I saw."


* The trip to Jupiter was the Twins' first game on the Atlantic side of Florida, where the Cardinals, Marlins, Astros and Nationals train, since March 2, 2020. Such trips require bus rides of nearly three hours, so Baldelli made it clear he preferred the pandemic schedules that were heavy on games with the Red Sox, Braves and Rays, the three closest teams to Hammond Stadium.

* Shortly before the game against his former team, Cardinals righthander Sonny Gray told reporters that his hamstring injury suffered Monday is "nothing major, nothing concerning. Just a little hamstring tweak" that will keep him out of action only a couple of days.

* Matt Wallner was scheduled to make the trip, but he stayed in Fort Myers, Baldelli said, because "our hitting guys wanted to get him a workout at home, a normal workday and not a game."