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Royce Lewis Opening Options with AFL Flexibility

Royce Lewis was one of the Minnesota Twins prospects selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League. While his home runs are turning heads, so are his starts at third base and center field over his usual shortstop. What might this mean long term for the Twins top prospect?
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Overall 2019 was a down year for Minnesota Twins top prospect Royce Lewis. While calling it a down year, it is labeled so with a bit of hesitancy. While it is an absolutely appropriate label as Lewis slashed .236/.290/.371 between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola. There are more factors to a prospect's development at times than pure and linear statistical output.

Lewis is also only 20-years-old and had other outside influences contributing to a lower production at the plate. He did struggle with an oblique strain early in spring training and also has been tinkering with his approach at the plate. All of which seem to have contributed to a lower output at the plate.

Regardless of how we frame Lewis’ 2019 numbers, they did cause Lewis to stumble a bit lower on national prospect rankings, but he is still clearly one of the best prospects in baseball. Something that now is being showcased in the Arizona Fall League. Offensively Lewis has been doing things like this:



And defensively like this:



And that is where the heads begin to turn. That is Lewis in center field. Which isn’t all that strange, but the shortstop hasn’t in four games started at his regular position once and has seen all his time split between center and third base.

So what does this all mean? We ultimately have no idea, but we can sure have some fun speculating. So let’s start with the most exciting option first.

The Twins really like his bat now

It is no secret that the Twins have a really good lineup right now. Maybe the Twins would like to add their former number-one pick to that lineup. The problem is that right now the middle infield spots look to be secured by Jorge Polanco and the emergence of Luis Arraez.

Third base is also technically occupied, but it seems possible the Twins could roll with an infield that puts Lewis at the hot corner. And then goes around the horn with Lewis-Polanco-Arraez-Sano.

Lewis could also wiggle his way into a crowded outfield situation. There is plenty of speculation about Byron Buxton’s long term ability to stay healthy. There is also a good dose of speculation surrounding Eddie Rosario as a trade piece in trying to bolster the Twins pitching staff.

It seems absolutely plausible that at some point there will be a new face in the 2020 starting outfield compared to this year’s go-to group. It makes imagining a starting group next season as three of Rosario, Buxton, Kepler, and Lewis (or name your outfielder) feel very realistic.

This scenario does feel like a stretch as I write it. Lewis’ scenario feels like one that no matter what he does in the AFL or spring training he will find more time in the minors in 2020. Since he has already made it to Double-A we also know that a promotion to the majors can happen quickly once a talented player hits that level. So while we as fans aren’t used to seeing 21-year-olds in the big leagues we know it isn’t impossible either.

Versatility is King

If there is anything we have learned about baseball in 2019, next to guys who can hit the baseball really far, it is that teams value defensive versatility. Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, Luis Arraez, and Willians Astudillo are all guys on the Twins roster that greatly increase their value by their ability to field multiple positions.

Generally superstars (which I think we all hope Lewis becomes) find one position and are able to lock into it. That may still be true, but maybe we are seeing that the Twins will also value that versatility out of even a superstar.

This is AFL specific

The last and least exciting option is this. This is just how the roster of the Salt River Rafters has worked best when it comes to day-to-day lineups to this point in the AFL season. So while Lewis is still viewed as a shortstop it just works best with the players on the roster to have him see time at third or in center.

Lewis is still a better prospect than Arizona Diamondbacks Geraldo Perdomo who has seen time at short instead of Lewis. Which maybe only fuels speculation about what is happening in Arizona right now and what it means about the long term fate of Lewis and other Twins players.

Do-Hyoung Park recently wrote that he has been told Lewis will return to his regular work at shortstop after the AFL. Which adds to this being the likely reasoning behind what we are seeing from Lewis. Not to mention Steve Lein wrote that this exact situation was a very strong possibility in his AFL preview not quite a week ago.

Time will tell where Lewis plays once he gets a shot in the majors. Right now we can enjoy improved production at the plate from him as in four games Lewis has slashed .333/.412/.800 with a 1.212 OPS and two home runs. Lewis continues to look like one more very talented bat that isn’t far from plugging in somewhere and working to keep playoff-level baseball in Minnesota.

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30 Comments

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diehardtwinsfan
Sep 24 2019 10:57 AM

Lewis was nothing special with the bat this season... I think the idea that the Twins like his bat now is probably a bit far fetched. I suspect this is more flexibility related... People have learned that having a 10th guy that can play multiple positions and hold is own with the bat is extremely valuable. If Lewis can occupy SS, 3B, or CF, he can play just about anywhere else too. 

 

Either way, I dont' expect to see him in 2020 unless he suddenly destroys high minors pitching. 

    • glunn, Mike Sixel, twinstalker and 8 others like this

There's certainly the idea of giving him reps at other positions at play here. There's nothing wrong with exposing him to other spots. He's a great enough athlete that he can fit in several places, depending on need.

 

But the biggest thing for me, and thank you for the mention on this, is how the rosters of the AFL are constructed and utilized. It just so happens there are two other players on the Salt River Rafters roster, Jose Devers and Geraldo Perdomo, who are better shortstops at this point than Lewis. Some might even go so far as to say considerably better.

 

Wouldn't read too much into it besides they have to find ways to get him and the other guys into games, but it's fun to see him in the outfield!

    • SQUIRREL, glunn, Nate Palmer and 5 others like this
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Nate Palmer
Sep 24 2019 01:13 PM

 

There's certainly the idea of giving him reps at other positions at play here. There's nothing wrong with exposing him to other spots. He's a great enough athlete that he can fit in several places, depending on need.

 

But the biggest thing for me, and thank you for the mention on this, is how the rosters of the AFL are constructed and utilized. It just so happens there are two other players on the Salt River Rafters roster, Jose Devers and Geraldo Perdomo, who are better shortstops at this point than Lewis. Some might even go so far as to say considerably better.

 

Wouldn't read too much into it besides they have to find ways to get him and the other guys into games, but it's fun to see him in the outfield!

Thanks Steve. Absolutely defer to your knowledge on the other players on the roster. The AFL does create a unique situation for getting prospects into games! 

    • Steve Lein and glunn like this

IMHO, the Twins should trade Buxton (in a package or not) for a front line pitcher, start 2019 with Kepler at CF, and keep him there until Lewis is ready.The window for the Twins to compete is wide open right now and if they do not have top of the rotation pitchers to equalize matchups with the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers they will not go far. 

 

Maybe that's why Lewis is playing CF (and the fact that the SS position is taken for 5 more seasons in the bigs.)

    • glunn, DocBauer and JD Green like this

 

There's certainly the idea of giving him reps at other positions at play here. There's nothing wrong with exposing him to other spots. He's a great enough athlete that he can fit in several places, depending on need.

 

But the biggest thing for me, and thank you for the mention on this, is how the rosters of the AFL are constructed and utilized. It just so happens there are two other players on the Salt River Rafters roster, Jose Devers and Geraldo Perdomo, who are better shortstops at this point than Lewis. Some might even go so far as to say considerably better.

 

Wouldn't read too much into it besides they have to find ways to get him and the other guys into games, but it's fun to see him in the outfield!

 

Exactly. This is not the Twins' staff doing this. It happens frequently, to get players into the games in the AFL. Personally, it makes me nervous that opposing team's staff is the ones doing it (Only Luis Ramirez, pitching coach from Fort Myers, and Ben Myers from the traing staff is there, and the team is managed by Keith Johnson from the Marlins' AAA team, the New Orleans Baby Cakes’). I would much rather it be under the watch of the Twins' farm system. This is a real wild card, and a good way to get hurt.... like slamming into the centerfield wall. And I mean slamming. The development is for the at bats he missed by being hurt at the beginning of the year, and against very good competion. After all, he did not really rip it up at the plate this year, and that is being generous. Kirilloff was held out in the end because he had plenty, and was a bit dinged up. I wouldn't read too much into it, either, and I just hope he comes out of the AFL not getting hurt playing the outfield and getting "Buxtoned".

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SF Twins Fan
Sep 24 2019 02:12 PM

If I were making decisions I would start him back at AA next season and make sure he can hit there before I move him up to AAA.There is no need to rush him as this point since SS, 2B and CF seem to be covered.  

    • DocBauer, gagu, D.C Twins and 1 other like this
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ScrapTheNickname
Sep 24 2019 02:18 PM

 

Exactly. This is not the Twins' staff doing this. It happens frequently, to get players into the games in the AFL. Personally, it makes me nervous that opposing team's staff is the ones doing it (Only Luis Ramirez, pitching coach from Fort Myers, and Ben Myers from the traing staff is there, and the team is managed by Keith Johnson from the Marlins' AAA team, the New Orleans Baby Cakes’). I would much rather it be under the watch of the Twins' farm system. This is a real wild card, and a good way to get hurt.... like slamming into the centerfield wall. And I mean slamming. The development is for the at bats he missed by being hurt at the beginning of the year, and against very good competion. After all, he did not really rip it up at the plate this year, and that is being generous. Kirilloff was held out in the end because he had plenty, and was a bit dinged up. I wouldn't read too much into it, either, and I just hope he comes out of the AFL not getting hurt playing the outfield and getting "Buxtoned".

But on the flip side of the coin isn't it interesting that in the AFL players get managed and coached by men who have an objective view. Maybe the manager sees that Lewis is inferior at short to the other guy, but within the Twins system the blinders are on: Lewis, #1 overall pick, will play short! Also, all the players on the roster generally play about the same amount, if I'm not mistaken.

 

But on the flip side of the coin isn't it interesting that in the AFL players get managed and coached by men who have an objective view. Maybe the manager sees that Lewis is inferior at short to the other guy, but within the Twins system the blinders are on: Lewis, #1 overall pick, will play short! Also, all the players on the roster generally play about the same amount, if I'm not mistaken.

Jose Devers (brother of the Red Sox' Rafeal Devers) is in the Marlins system, and the manager of the team is, too. That doesn't hurt his getting the call at SS. He progressed from the Gulfcoast League to High A this year. Geraldo Perdomo played A and High A and is in the Diamondback's farm, so is a "home teamer" in Arizona. There is also that, when we are considering "objectivity". They are both 19. It must be OK with the Twins' though. I still think playing as much as he can, and getting the at bats against quality pitching is the main goal here, and Lewis is athletic enough to play other positions to accomplish that goal, especially in meaningless exhibition type games where there is no need whatsoever to slam yourself into the outfield wall. 

    • DocBauer, gagu and Patrick Wozniak like this

 

IMHO, the Twins should trade Buxton (in a package or not) for a front line pitcher, start 2019 with Kepler at CF, and keep him there until Lewis is ready.The window for the Twins to compete is wide open right now and if they do not have top of the rotation pitchers to equalize matchups with the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers they will not go far. 

 

Maybe that's why Lewis is playing CF (and the fact that the SS position is taken for 5 more seasons in the bigs.)

 

Do you think that a team friendly contract will keep Polanco at SS if he continues to have throwing and fielding problems on routine plays, though? I'm not so sure that SS is Polanco's final home on the Twins', necessarily. Especially if someone develops that does better. One injury and an opportunity maximized, and Polanco could be holding down second, long term. He was voted the All-Star SS this year. It could very well be taken.

Do you think that a team friendly contract will keep Polanco at SS if he continues to have throwing and fielding problems on routine plays, though? I'm not so sure that SS is Polanco's final home on the Twins', necessarily. Especially if someone develops that does better. One injury and an opportunity maximized, and Polanco could be holding down second, long term. He was voted the All-Star SS this year. It could very well be taken.


You have to get pitching somehow. Lots of it. Next year. Or it's a lost year.
    • Thrylos, Tomj14 and D.C Twins like this

You have to get pitching somehow. Lots of it. Next year. Or it's a lost year.


Sure, but (and this assumes he finds a way to stay healthy) Buxton on the field improves every pitcher on the team.

I'd rather trade prospects for pitching than Buxton.
    • DocBauer likes this

 

You have to get pitching somehow. Lots of it. Next year. Or it's a lost year.

 

I dream about that. I think Bumgarner would have a resurgence to top form, ala Verlander. I like Dallas Keuchel, a lot, too, who can be signed without a draft pick compenstion. And Odo... I can't believe I am saying that, but as a #3, or 4...... I don't see them spending on Cole, and I bet Houston resigns him.

 

Do you think that a team friendly contract will keep Polanco at SS if he continues to have throwing and fielding problems on routine plays, though? I'm not so sure that SS is Polanco's final home on the Twins', necessarily. Especially if someone develops that does better. One injury and an opportunity maximized, and Polanco could be holding down second, long term. He was voted the All-Star SS this year. It could very well be taken.

 

a. Polanco is better with the glove (and arm) than Lewis at SS (Wander Javier is better, but likely seems like a 3B guy)

b. No respect forArraez?These 2 will be the Twins middle infield for the next 5 seasons...

    • DocBauer and sloopjont like this

We were having these conversations about Guzman and Rivas once too. Let it play out. This is what the minor leagues are for.

    • Sconnie likes this
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twinstalker
Sep 24 2019 07:18 PM

 

If I were making decisions I would start him back at AA next season and make sure he can hit there before I move him up to AAA.There is no need to rush him as this point since SS, 2B and CF seem to be covered.  

Yeah, I don't think anyone in their right mind is going to suggest otherwise.

    • D.C Twins likes this
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twinstalker
Sep 24 2019 07:23 PM

Continuing on from the Arraez discussion...the Twins should lock him up and buy out FA years before he gets too expensive!I mean, did you see that catch and homer!

 

(Disclaimer: folks here need to prep themselves for the experience of having Boras clients--Lewis and Kirilloff are two and won't be selling their FA years)

 

a. Polanco is better with the glove (and arm) than Lewis at SS (Wander Javier is better, but likely seems like a 3B guy)

b. No respect forArraez?These 2 will be the Twins middle infield for the next 5 seasons...

 

A little early to have earned that long term respect from me for Arraez. I remember initial half seasons like Valencia and Santana. And even more recently, Astudillo (split at the end of last year and the beginning of this, but I was never on the turtle train). So not that I don't wish for the best, I am not sold, and certainly not on his defense to have a huge upside. But I am open to serving up adoration and respect with time. And right now I have few complaints.... and none at the plate, except a little power. Arraez has been a great addition, so far. So credit given, and reserving respect.

 

Good problems to have, if any are a problem. I like the depth, and I certainly am not trying to predict the future of a couple of 20 year olds that both haven't even grown into their bodies yet. And I believe that Polanco can continue to get better and more consistant in the field. Javier won't play anywhere in the show if he doesn't start to hit. And Lewis will get all the benefits of all doubts and then some for some time to come. Draft Privilege. It's definitely a thing.

Dear Cart,

 

me thinks that Lewis needs to do a little something more than an OPS around 0.650 and a SO/BB rate of 3:1 against A+/AA before we need to really discuss where he'll play in the MLB

 

Love,

The Horse

    • adorduan, DannySD and SpicyGarvSauce like this

I would rather see Lewis at SS when/if he gets to the MLB.Polanco is a below average SS defensively and Arraez is well below average at 2nd using UZR metrics.Arraez has been decent at 3rd in 123 inning there.

 

Arraez at 3rd or super utility, Lewis at SS, Polanco at 2nd, Sano at 1b/DH (if he is not a FA by the time Lewis debuts).

 

Our infield defense is not very good and our outfield defense is great.Seems like making room for Lewis in the outfield is a waste. Kirilloff, Cave, and Wade should be ahead of Lewis on any outfield depth chart.

I would rather see Lewis at SS when/if he gets to the MLB. Polanco is a below average SS defensively and Arraez is well below average at 2nd using UZR metrics. Arraez has been decent at 3rd in 123 inning there.

Arraez at 3rd or super utility, Lewis at SS, Polanco at 2nd, Sano at 1b/DH (if he is not a FA by the time Lewis debuts).

Our infield defense is not very good and our outfield defense is great. Seems like making room for Lewis in the outfield is a waste. Kirilloff, Cave, and Wade should be ahead of Lewis on any outfield depth chart.


Cave and Wade are not ahead of Lewis. If Lewis moves to the outfield, it's not clear anyone but Kepler is in front of him, assuming Buxton is gone in that scenario.
    • brvama and gagu like this

 

Cave and Wade are not ahead of Lewis. If Lewis moves to the outfield, it's not clear anyone but Kepler is in front of him, assuming Buxton is gone in that scenario.

So you're saying that if Lewis moves to OF he is immediately 2nd or 3rd on our depth chart?So basically starting somewhere on the MLB roster.

 

For 2020, Cave, Gonzalez and Wade are absolutely ahead of Lewis in OF.Luke Raley is too.Lewis would need to set the world on fire to be considered anywhere next season and it is likely that he is only considered for an infield spot.

 

Rosario would have to be gone too I'm assuming because he, Buxton, and Kepler are all clearly well ahead of Lewis until at least 2022.It doesn't make sense to me to squeeze Lewis into an already crowded and talented outfield when it would be easy to find him a spot in the infield.We don't need to clog up any OF spots when Kirilloff and Larnach seem to be every bit as good as Lewis.

 

Honestly Lewis probably doesn't factor anywhere in 2020 but it seems simple to mix around the infield in 2021 when Cron, Gonzalez, and Adrianza are likely Free Agents.I'm betting Lewis is still the SS of the future.

Yeah I would put Kirilloff and Larnach ahead of Lewis in the OF pecking order assuming no Buxton.Basically, you have 2 OF spots, 1B, and 3B to divide between Kirilloff, Larnach, Lewis, Rosario, and Sano.  

 

That said, I would not mind Lewis in a Marwin Gonzalez role in that scenario with the ability to play any OF spot and 2B, SS, and 3B. 

Yeah I would put Kirilloff and Larnach ahead of Lewis in the OF pecking order assuming no Buxton. Basically, you have 2 OF spots, 1B, and 3B to divide between Kirilloff, Larnach, Lewis, Rosario, and Sano.

That said, I would not mind Lewis in a Marwin Gonzalez role in that scenario with the ability to play any OF spot and 2B, SS, and 3B.

Rosario is gone in a year or two, if not at the end of this year.
You develop him at short. Shortstop is the most difficult position from a technical standpoint. For superior athletes like Lewis it’s easy to transition to another position from SS if/when that time comes. Not so, in reverse. That’s the point. And that’s why he’ll stay there until the bat is ready and they have a specific spot open on the big club...at that point, the transition would happen fast, and he’d be here.
    • ashbury, birdwatcher, DocBauer and 1 other like this

Rosario is gone in a year or two, if not at the end of this year.


He could be and I have advocated for that in the past as well. In all likelihood Buxton will still be part of the mix even if injuries keep him from consistently being part of the mix—which then leaves the scenario the same for Lewis.

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