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Alex Kirilloff recovered from Tommy John surgery, set to play again in Twins system

Doug Gulasy
| Sunday, March 4, 2018, 10:43 p.m.
Former Plum standout Alex Kirilloff, a top prospect for the Minnesota Twins, missed last season after having Tommy John surgery.
Brace Hemmelgarn | Minnesota Twins
Former Plum standout Alex Kirilloff, a top prospect for the Minnesota Twins, missed last season after having Tommy John surgery.

Alex Kirilloff's house sits a 15-minute drive from the Minnesota Twins' training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., but that proximity didn't help the former Plum star in 2017.

Sidelined after season-ending Tommy John surgery, Kirilloff could watch baseball last year — and he did, plenty of it — but he couldn't play. And considering the Twins' 2016 first-round draft selection first picked up a bat at about the same time he learned to stand up and walk, that became a difficult circumstance.

The 20-year-old outfielder reports to Twins minor-league camp this week with a healed elbow and a new perspective, eager for his first full season of professional baseball.

“It's been highly anticipated and long-awaited,” said Kirilloff, ranked the Twins' sixth-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. “I'm ready to get rolling again.”

A star pitcher and outfielder who led Plum to WPIAL and PIAA runner-up finishes in 2016, Kirilloff rocketed up draft boards in part because of how he performed in showcases. He won the home run derby at the Perfect Game All-American Classic at San Diego's Petco Park in 2015.

The Twins made Kirilloff the 15th overall pick in 2016, and he did his part to justify the selection by hitting .306 with seven homers and eight doubles for the Elizabethton Twins of the rookie-level Appalachian League, earning league MVP honors.

Lingering arm soreness revealed his injury: a tear in Kirilloff's elbow. He first pursued a nonsurgical treatment of platelet-rich plasma injections, but when they didn't work, he opted for the surgery last March.

“It was hard at first, especially being surrounded by all the excitement — people coming in and getting ready for a new year and a new season and getting the news that you're not going to play the whole season,” Kirilloff said. “It was hard, but I just tried to move past that.”

Kirilloff attempted to make the most of his year off. He bought Major League Baseball's extended television package and watched more games at the Twins facility. He also spent more time at home with wife Jordan, whom he married in October 2016.

He believes the year away from playing baseball was a “blessing in disguise.”

“Not having to travel this year has set a great foundation for my marriage, and being married at a young age, I think that's gone above and beyond where it could have gone if I was traveling and busy the whole year,” he said. “I think just watching baseball from a different perspective this entire year instead of playing it, I've learned stuff about the game and my maturity and mentality and hitting and everything. Being able to watch more baseball than I ever have before, I think I've picked up on a lot of minute things that will make my game better.”

The injury also caused Kirilloff to pay more attention to general maintenance of his body, and he believes he will come back stronger. He began throwing in July, taking dry swings in August and was fully cleared by the end of November.

“Those mini milestones throughout the process are really what keep you engaged,” he said. “Being healthy every day, you take those things for granted, but after having surgery, picking up a baseball again and being able to lift weights again, stretch it, do band work again, it's stuff you take for granted. But throughout the rehab process, they're checkpoints. They're milestones. You're working to get to that next one throughout, and that's kind of what takes you through.”

Kirilloff does not yet know where the Twins will place him to begin the season. But after the Twins made a surprise run to the American League wild card last season and boosted an already strong farm system — ESPN analyst Keith Law ranked Minnesota's crop of prospects the 10th best in baseball in February — Kirilloff is ready to get going.

“It's an exciting time to be a Twin,” he said.

“I'm looking forward to playing a full healthy season and being a part of a great team, wherever I am, and just building bonds and relationships with teammates and fans.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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