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The Defensive Future of Royce Lewis

Royce Lewis has been lighting up the Arizona Fall League with a 1.066 OPS which ranks second in the league. He helped the East to win the Fall Stars Game after he cranked a two-run home run in the first inning. He would go on to be named MVP of that game and it looks like he is ending the year strong after some inconsistencies during the regular season.

Minnesota drafted Lewis for his athleticism and the potential he had shown as an amateur. Now there are some questions about his defensive future. What position will Lewis play when he gets called up to Target Field?
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (Royce Lewis)
Shortstop
Lewis was drafted as a shortstop and the Twins have given him every opportunity to stick at one of the most important defensive positions. Through three professional seasons, 94.7% of his defensive innings have been played at short. He has been charged with 48 errors in 1076 chances for a .955 fielding percentage. This might not seem terrible, but Jorge Polanco had a .957 fielding percentage this year and there were plenty of people critical of his defense this year.

Even with Minnesota continuing to use Lewis at shortstop, there is no guarantee he stays there long-term. As Matthew Trueblood wrote, there have been some “dubious recent scouting reports” about his shortstop play. Lewis could be entering a critical time for his defensive future and shortstop might not be his position in the years ahead. In fact, he has yet to log a defensive inning at shortstop in the AFL.

Third Base
Minnesota currently has Miguel Sano at third base, but there have been questions about his ability to stick at that position long-term. In fact, he might be better suited for first base or even designated hitter. If there was an opening at third, Lewis might be given the opportunity to take over the hot corner.

In 11 of his 18 AFL games, he has started at third base and he has yet to be charged with an error. His time at third was almost nonexistent before the AFL started. During his professional career, he had played four innings at third base and he had yet to start a game at that position.

It’s also not like there is a better shortstop prospect ahead of him on his AFL roster. Tampa’s Vidal Brujan has played the majority of the time at short and his own organization rarely uses him at that position (377 2/3 innings over five seasons).

Outfield
Minnesota’s current outfield looks strong if Bryon Buxton, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario are all healthy and on the field. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen very often in 2019 and one must wonder what the future holds for the team’s outfield trio. It also seems possible for one of these players to be dealt for starting pitching help before the beginning of next season.

Lewis has played four games in center field during his career and three of those contests have been in the AFL. That still hasn’t stopped him from making a highlight reel catch.

Outfield seems like a good back-up plan for Lewis if he doesn’t pan out at either one of the infield positions mentioned above. He has the athleticism to shift to the outfield, but it would take a lot of work to get him accustomed to chasing down fly-balls.

Where do you think Royce Lewis will play defensively in the future? Leave a COMMENT and join the discussion.

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39 Comments

My understanding was that Lewis wasn't playing SS only because the Twins didn't get a preferential SS slot for him.

    • birdwatcher, brvama, h2oface and 1 other like this

 

My understanding was that Lewis wasn't playing SS only because the Twins didn't get a preferential SS slot for him.

 

Yes, and also the Twins are happy to get him ABs at 3B and CF... No intent to play him at SS, but when he gets to spring training, he'll be at SS.

    • Steve Lein, brvama, PseudoSABR and 6 others like this
Has a prospect ever generated so many questions regarding ability to play a position from the start of their career, only to go on and be great st that position defensively?

I’m still concerned about how his bat will play with that giant leg kick.

This reminds of the supposed book on Polanco: he couldn't play SS either.While Polanco struggled in the field, especially late in the season, he was the AL representative at the position.I hope the Twins give the same opportunity for Lewis to stick at short as they did Polanco.

    • Steve Lein, birdwatcher, brvama and 3 others like this

Has a prospect ever generated so many questions regarding ability to play a position from the start of their career, only to go on and be great st that position defensively?

I’m still concerned about how his bat will play with that giant leg kick.


Jeter is one. By the way, just curious, what’s Lewis’ arm strength like?

I think Royce can stick at SS because of the advances in defensive positioning, but do wonder if he would be better utilized in CF (not better than Buxton, but if we lose Buxton it may be best for the team to have Royce in CF). 

 

...and Jeter is not really a good example to go by to give anyone hope Royce can turn out to be great defensively at SS. Probably the opposite of a good example.

    • Steve Lein, Mike Sixel and Oldgoat_MN like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Oct 22 2019 05:37 AM

Honestly, given Buxton's inability to stay healthy, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Lewis ends up in CF. 

 

    • TL, nmcowboy and In My La-Z-boy like this
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Richard Swerdlick
Oct 22 2019 05:59 AM
Such versatility is an assett for Royce and a number of Twins. Good to see as it gives us much flexibility.
    • Steve Lein, Twins33, Riverbrian and 2 others like this
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Dave The Dastardly
Oct 22 2019 07:05 AM

Do the Twins currently have another almost-ready third baseman in their minor league system?

 

My bet is Sano goes to first and Lewis goes to third. He's got the quickness, the arm and the bat to hold down the hot corner.

    • Steve Lein, DocBauer, David HK and 1 other like this
If his main SS competition is Polanco, I keep him at short. If the Twins sign or trade for a competent defensive SS, then I move him to third. The only way I see him in CF is if Buxton suffers another injury, admittedly not unlikely.
    • SF Twins Fan likes this
I have no idea what Royce Lewis is like defensively.

However... if he can play SS, 3B and CF. By all means let him play all 3 positions. There is extreme value in that ability.

Trying to shove him into one spot is a mistake.

Once Royce establishes himself as ready and becomes the top call up option. When Royce gets called up, it will be due to an issue on the 25 man (injury or performance related). We don’t know where that injury or performance related issue will spring up. Could be OF, could be 3B, could be SS. His ability to play all of those positions opens up more doors for him to come through.

Leave him at one position like SS. He is waiting for one specific door to open and Polanco may not get hurt. It then forces Lewis back to the minors if when Polanco returns. If the injury happens in CF. This forces the club to call up a lesser player because Lewis is a SS only.

Let him play all 3 positions and we will see him sooner. Leave him at one position and it will take a specific set of circumstances to get him up to the majors.
    • Steve Lein, birdwatcher, Mike Sixel and 13 others like this
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twinsfanstreif
Oct 22 2019 07:31 AM

Has a prospect ever generated so many questions regarding ability to play a position from the start of their career, only to go on and be great st that position defensively?

How quickly we forget about Polanco, he was absolutely not supposed to be a SS and he's been excellent there

Great topic, Cody.I agree with those above who favor his playing all three positions next year which will enable him to be called up at where he is needed....short, third, left or center.

 

Speaking of his success in the AFL, have you seen what Raley has done of late?After a horrible start to his AFL season, he has hit homers in each of his last three games with his average up to .250.

    • Steve Lein, birdwatcher, Riverbrian and 5 others like this

"It’s also not like there is a better shortstop prospect ahead of him on his AFL roster. Tampa’s Vidal Brujan has played the majority of the time at short and his own organization rarely uses him at that position (377 2/3 innings over five seasons)."

 

 

My understanding was that Lewis wasn't playing SS only because the Twins didn't get a preferential SS slot for him.

 

There's not a higher overall rated SS prospect on the roster (Lewis is probably the 2nd highest rated prospect in the league behind Jo Adell), but as for defensive considerations I'll answer these statements with one of my comments from last weeks AFL report:

 

"There's been reports that the Twins actually liked that there were other SS prospects on the team in Arizona, so they would have to put him elsewhere to get at-bats. Those other shortstops are pretty good ones too: Geraldo Perdomo, Jose Devers, and also Vidal Brujan and all three are easily better defenders than Lewis at SS at this point in time. The Twins obviously want him to work at multiple positions so that when he's ready, they have options on where to put him.

 

I think Lewis still has a lot of work to do if he wants to play SS in the majors —and that's not in any way a knock on him. He's incredibly young and you don't develop a major league SS in two years if he wasn't already a fielding wizard at the position. You also have to consider that those fielding wizards usually don't carry a bat like Lewis potentially does. Jorge Polanco was the same way, his bat was way ahead of his fielding and he didn't become even an average-ish guy at the position until last season, essentially his third year in the majors at 24 years of age.

 

I think Lewis has excelled at 3B in the Fall League however, and he can run down fly balls in the outfield too. He's getting more run at 2B the last few weeks too, but I don't see him ending up on that side of the infield."

    • USAFChief, Mike Sixel, TopGunn#22 and 6 others like this

I'd keep him at SS for the future, but sprinkle in some games at 3B and in the OF to keep him fresh with it. The more position flexibility a player can have the better.

 

I do think that he makes his MLB debut as a 3B, unless Polanco is injured.

    • Steve Lein, SF Twins Fan, Strato Guy and 2 others like this

 

Jeter is one. By the way, just curious, what’s Lewis’ arm strength like?

 

He's got a good arm, but it's an outfield arm at this point. What I mean by that is he's a bit "long" in his motion to get to that arm strength. Watched quite a few games of his this year and can recall a few plays where he didn't get to a ground ball quick enough, then his release wasn't fast enough to get the ball there on time to beat the runner with his arm. While I wouldn't call the plays I'm recalling 'routine' necessarily, I'd also expect a SS to make them. 

 

But again, these are things he's going to improve. I have no doubt he can be better than Polanco there eventually if that's the path they go down.

    • ashbury, PseudoSABR, Sconnie and 5 others like this

We have three more years of Buxton and then he'll take over CF. I suspect Lewis will spend all of this season in the minors and the team will reevaluate what they have after next season.

    • Mike Sixel likes this
Versatility is great, but an above average SS or catcher doesn’t get moved around. This is especially true if they possess starter quality offensive skills. A well below average offensive player needs defensive versatility to stick in the majors. Unless Lewis shows himself to be below average as a SS without reasonable expectation for improvement, I would give him all the reps possible there. The other exception is the appearance of a better SS option. As of now that is not the case or likely in the foreseeable future.
Another possibility for improvement of the infield defense is to greatly upgrade the third base defense to help cover some range and arm concerns with Polanco. If that is the plan I can get behind a Lewis move to third.
    • Steve Lein, Don Walcott and jkcarew like this
The better question is his offensive future... He still has a ways to go with the bat before thinking about what position he plays in the majors.

Also, positional flexibility is good for anyone.
    • Steve Lein, Mike Sixel, diehardtwinsfan and 7 others like this

Versatility is great, but an above average SS or catcher doesn’t get moved around. This is especially true if they possess starter quality offensive skills. A well below average offensive player needs defensive versatility to stick in the majors. Unless Lewis shows himself to be below average as a SS without reasonable expectation for improvement, I would give him all the reps possible there. The other exception is the appearance of a better SS option. As of now that is not the case or likely in the foreseeable future.
Another possibility for improvement of the infield defense is to greatly upgrade the third base defense to help cover some range and arm concerns with Polanco. If that is the plan I can get behind a Lewis move to third.


You are describing past “Utility” definitions.

Super Utility is alive and well in this day and age.
    • Steve Lein and DocBauer like this
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stringer bell
Oct 22 2019 11:32 AM

In the OP, there was mention of Lewis' fielding percentage compared to Polanco's this year with the Twins. That should be regarded with a grain of salt, if that. Major league stadiums, with their manicured infields and excellent lighting (and kind official scorers) make that comparison near meaningless. That there are scouting reports showing that Lewis has issues as a defensive shortstop would be meaningful, but what are the issues? Does he have the necessary range and arm strength? Can he make a quick release throw? Steve Lein has pointed out that Lewis isn't that quick with his release. I would think that is a problem that can be corrected.

 

I think it is good for Lewis to have work in at third base and the outfield. Year to year conventional wisdom changes on players. Currently, there is discussion about the long-term futures of both Buxton (due to injuries) and Sanó (due to defensive liability). Perhaps both will play their way through those questions, but perhaps these two positions may be where Lewis will get a chance (if he is ready to hit in the majors). Manny Machado was a shortstop who took a third base vacancy to get to the majors and he's played 80% of his innings at third base through eight seasons. Regardless, Royce will need to carry his good hitting from the AFL next season to even be in consideration for a promotion to Minnesota.

    • Steve Lein, USAFChief, Mike Sixel and 3 others like this

 

He's got a good arm, but it's an outfield arm at this point. What I mean by that is he's a bit "long" in his motion to get to that arm strength. Watched quite a few games of his this year and can recall a few plays where he didn't get to a ground ball quick enough, then his release wasn't fast enough to get the ball there on time to beat the runner with his arm. While I wouldn't call the plays I'm recalling 'routine' necessarily, I'd also expect a SS to make them. 

 

But again, these are things he's going to improve. I have no doubt he can be better than Polanco there eventually if that's the path they go down.

Then there is absolutely no reason not to go down that path. Yes, expose Lewis to other positions to ensure that things aren't totally foreign depending on how events unfold. But SS is where the highest upside is for any player's value...and it's the most difficult from a technical standpoint. Focus development there until the above sentence is proved false. (Or, I guess...until Buxton is traded or forced to retire.)

    • adorduan likes this

 

Then there is absolutely no reason not to go down that path. Yes, expose Lewis to other positions to ensure that things aren't totally foreign depending on how events unfold. But SS is where the highest upside is for any player's value...and it's the most difficult from a technical standpoint. Focus development there until the above sentence is proved false. (Or, I guess...until Buxton is traded or forced to retire.)

 

I know what you're getting at here, but I look at it a little differently.

 

Lewis isn't going to displace Polanco from shortstop in the next few years outside of coming up to fill in for a long term trip to the injured list or if Polanco forgets how to hit.

 

If Lewis is becoming the player you think he can be, you find or create a place to play him in this scenario with Polanco entrenched. This helps you do so.

    • Riverbrian likes this
Echoing a few other thoughts.

1] Error numbers for a 19yo milb SS are pretty meaningless. It's still about potential at this point, and further development of that potential.

2] Totally agree he should keep playing all over, including some time at 2B, to increase his versatility not only for a future home at some point, but to increase his initial call up value. And maybe he ends up being a daily player at a couple spots. Who knows?

3] Having a problem of how to fit all of your talent on the field at once is a nice problem to have. At this point, where Lewis ultimately ends up really shouldn't matter.
    • Steve Lein, Riverbrian, TL and 1 other like this

IMO it will be disappointing if he doesn't play a premium defensive position, i.e. SS or CF.Other positions are easier to fill.


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