Alejandro Kirk could be the next Blue Jays prospect to have successfully used Bluefield as his launching pad.
Alejandro Kirk is not the typical prospect that gets a post dedicated to him. He was an international free agent signing out of Mexico, who put pen to paper in September 2016, well after the top IFA prospects had signed. He’s only just completed his first pro season, in the advanced rookie Appalachian League. Also, for what it’s worth, Kirk is a relatively short and stocky player, standing 5’9″ and weighing 220 pounds, a body type you don’t see often in the majors.
While little has been written about Kirk thus far, work by John Eshleman from 2080 Baseball and Future Blue Jays helped to shed light on the Blue Jays prospect. At the moment, his position is catcher, though both evaluators are pessimistic about his chances of sticking there in the long run, due to his size. Obviously, he can always be slotted in at first base, though he’s a bit short for the position. Failing that, he’d be limited to designated hitter.
Now, you might be asking yourself “what kind of potential can a 19 year old destined for DH possibly have?” Well, Alejandro Kirk just finished up one of the best offensive seasons at the advanced rookie-ball level in recent history.
Since 2006 (the first year in FanGraphs’ MiLB dataset), 1269 batters have had 200+ plate appearances in a single season in either the Appalachian or Pioneer League. Kirk’s 160 wRC+ ranks 39th among these batters (96th percentile). Moreover, among the 245 of these batters who were in their age-19 season, Kirk’s wRC+ ranks fourth (98th percentile).
Kirk’s success at the plate is reflected in four key hitting statistics. He walked far more often than most, with his 13.5% walk rate ranking in the 95th percentile among advanced rookie-ball hitters in their age-19 season since 2006. He also struck out far less often than most (8.6% K rate, 98th percentile), hit for more power than average (.204 ISO, 86th percentile) and got on base at an above-average clip (.354 BABIP, 68th percentile).
Kirk put together a very special season, one that should be highlighted even in a great year for the Jays’ system. That said, given that it was only 58 games long, caution is important when using it to project into the future.
Kirk’s combination of a super-low strikeout rate and well above-average ISO help him stand out further. Among the 1269 batters with at least 200 PA in a single season at the advanced rookie level since 2006, only three have produced a K%-ISO combo that was better.
When we narrow that list down to players in their age-19 season, none managed to produce both a lower strikeout rate and higher ISO than Kirk did.
Importantly, both marks seem to be legit. His low strikeout rate is supported by an equally impressive whiff rate (5.1%) that ranked third-best at the level in 2018. Similarly, his spray chart highlights the fact that none of his ten homers were particularly cheap. The default field used for these visualizations is Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, one of the most homer-unfriendly parks in the majors. At the Rogers Centre, it seems highly likely that all ten of his homers would have cleared the wall (328 feet-375-400-375-328), as would have one of his doubles and his triple.
Kirk also stood out statistically for his defence behind the plate. Over the 30 games he played at catcher, he amassed an impressive 11 fielding runs above average, tied for second-best in the Appalachian League. For now, at least, it seems like Kirk can handle himself behind the plate.
When talking about a strong performance from a rookie-ball hitter, extreme caution is needed. Nevertheless, his impressive showing this season deserves kudos as one of the best in the Blue Jays system. Few players at the level can match either the plate discipline he displayed or the power he produced (to say nothing of his contact skills). You can count on one hand those who have matched him in both respects, with none doing so at his age.
While there remains a long way and many steps between Kirk and his big league dream, his performance this year has convinced me that his is a journey worth keeping a close eye on.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.