Is There Any Hope For Royce Lewis?
Image courtesy of © Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY SportsYou all have probably heard the news by now. Royce Lewis tore his ACL after slipping on Texas ice and now will be out for all of 2021. That’s an unfortunate Mad Libs scenario if I’ve ever seen one but it’s real and so are the consequences.
This injury is now yet another speed bump in the path that has tested Lewis’ status as a top prospect. From underperforming in 2019 to questions regarding his swing to lost development in 2020 due to a canceled minor league season, Lewis’ career has been proclaimed dead by some before he has even seen a major league pitch. But is that fair? Are there any other first overall picks who struggled or endured major injuries but still ended up succeeding at the major league level?
Here is the list of every first overall pick in MLB. The list includes 55 players over 56 drafts (ex-Twin Danny Goodwin was drafted twice and is the only player to accomplish this). We have some familiar names like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and, of course, Joe Mauer. Oh, and we also have Delmon Young. Hope he’s doing well these days.
Let’s begin by looking at the players that share Lewis’ position; shortstop. That leaves us with Dansby Swanson, Carlos Correa, Tim Beckham, Justin Upton (who was apparently taken as a shortstop, did not know that!), Matt Bush (yikes), Jennifer Lopez’s husband, Chipper Jones, Shawon Dunston, Bill Almon, and Tim Foli. Let’s narrow down that list a bit more to just include the players who were All-Stars (my arbitrary definition of “successful”). Doing so gives us just Correa, Upton, A-Rod, Jones, and Dunston.
Immediately, Lewis is in some trouble. All of the “successful players” debuted no later than three years after being drafted. All five players were also, if not outright the youngest player in the league at the time of their debut, among the youngest players in the game in their rookie season. Lewis will now be at least 22-years-old when he makes his debut. It may seem aggressive to deem that “too old” but debuting that late as a high school shortstop puts him in a similar category as Tim Beckham, and you do not want to be in a similar category as Tim Beckham.
Maybe only looking at shortstops is too narrow. Let’s expand the list to include every All-Star position player. That adds Bryce Harper, Joe Mauer, Adrián González, Josh Hamilton, Darin Erstad, Phil Nevin, Ken Griffey Jr., B.J. Surhoff, Darryl Strawberry, Bob Horner, Harold Baines, Jeff Burroughs, and Rick Monday to the list. Everyone on this list again debuted within three years of being drafted with the exceptions of González and Hamilton.
González does provide a bit of good news for Lewis and Twins fans alike. González was taken first overall by the Marlins in 2000 as a high school first baseman but never hit at an overwhelming level while in the minors. His OPS topped out at .868 in 2001 but he tended to hover around the .660 mark during his time in the minors. A wrist injury in 2003 convinced the competing Marlins to deal him for help at the deadline and so González joined the Rangers. The injury plagued him for much of the next two years as it was only diagnosed after the season and González rushed the rehab. He didn’t play much over two seasons with Texas and was dealt for the third time in his career, this time to San Diego. González hit well in 2006 and would eventually become a strong middle-of-the-order presence on three different squads for nearly a decade. González retired in 2018 with a career .843 OPS, five All-Star selections, four Gold Gloves, and two Silver Slugger awards.
So is there hope for Lewis? Potentially. The history of first overall shortstops who took longer than three years to reach the majors is certainly not pretty. Adrián González, however, proves that a first-overall pick can both struggle in the minors and suffer a significant injury while still becoming a great MLB player. The cards may be stacked against Lewis but history shows that it may still be possible for him to turn it around and become a great player at the major league level.
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