MINNEAPOLIS — When Royce Lewis lost his entire 2021 season to a torn right ACL, he knew that when he next took the field, he’d have missed two full seasons of competitive professional baseball. Nobody knew what to expect upon his return from him – except for Lewis himself.
“2022 is going to be scary and spooky, man,” Lewis said following his ACL surgery in March ’21. “Just watch out.”
It looks like he was right. And now, his time has finally come.
Nearly five years after the Twins selected Lewis with the No. 1 pick of the 2017 MLB Draft, Minnesota announced that they called up the organization’s top prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 44 overall prospect ahead of Friday’s series opener against the Oakland A’s, with starting shortstop Carlos Correa dealing with an injured right middle finger.
Lewis will be just the second homegrown No. 1 overall pick to don the Twins’ uniform, and the first since Joe Mauer debuted in 2004, three years after the Twins selected the catcher first overall in the ’01 Draft.
With Correa sidelined, Lewis will have the opportunity for consistent playing time as the Twins’ starting shortstop. And though Correa’s preseason arrival seemed to take the pressure off of the 22-year-old Lewis to immediately prove himself MLB-ready in his first month back from serious injury, that’s what he’s seemingly done — and he’ll have the chance to show that off.
Promoted to Triple-A for the first time to begin this season, Lewis at last showed off the full strength of the five-tool skillset the Twins saw in him when they selected him out as an 18-year-old out of JSerra High School in Orange County, Calif., hitting .310/.430/.563 through 24 games with three homers, 11 doubles and eight stolen bases.
More significantly, after posting a .290 on-base percentage across High-A and Double-A in 2019, Lewis’ selectivity surged against Triple-A pitching this season, as he’s walked 17 times, nearly as much as he’s struck out (20 ).
Lewis finished up his Triple-A stint having reached base in 15 of his last 17 games, including each of his last eight. Not bad, considering he hadn’t taken a competitive at-bat in two years.
The immense physical talent was always there for Lewis to do these things on a baseball field.
He’s always been one of the fastest players in the organization, the purest example of the athleticism that’s helped him stick at shortstop despite some lack of polish. The power and contact have been there, too, but the big leg kick and long swing at the lower levels Minors sometimes disrupted his timing of him and stopped him from fully aware that potential, particularly in ’19, when he struggled to a .661 OPS.
But this season, Lewis has finally gotten the chance to show off the results of the hard work he put in behind the scenes at the alternate training site in ’20 constantly cited by those who were around him in that time.
He talked of adjusting to a more direct swing and feeling much better about hitting the ball hard to all fields that year. Sidelined by the ACL tear in ’21, Lewis would go back to his room following his workouts every day and watch every Twins game, continuing to develop the mental side of his skillset. He’d try and talk himself through how he’d attack the opponent’s starting pitcher, develop a game plan and visualize himself executing that plan.
And he feels stronger physically than ever, having done all the conditioning he could in ’21 while his leg healed.
“I keep telling people I feel like a powerlifter,” Lewis joked this spring. “It’s all I would do — is lift and go home, eat, sleep.”
Being healthy alone while playing every day would have been a positive outcome for Lewis this April, considering all he’s been through in the past two seasons and all the game action he’s missed.
Instead, he surpassed all expectations. All expectations but his own sky-high standards for himself, anyway.
“I feel like I have a chance to start in the big leagues this year and make a difference,” he said this spring. “I’m a difference-maker. I’m a ballplayer. I’ll play wherever. I’ll make the team do whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it. I’m here to contribute and try to make the team win. This team is so amazing. It’s ready to win, and it’s hungry.”
His team needs him. It’s time for the Lewis was to begin.