Lewis is undeniably the highest ceiling prospect in the Twins’ system. Drafted #1 overall with a collection of physical tools often boiled down to just “athleticism” but what that actually means is Lewis possesses elite speed, a strong arm, quick feet and raw power. Lewis also has the work ethic and attitude to succeed.
Anybody having questions about Lewis’ professionalism or makeup can watch this clip from an interview posted on YouTube by MLB on March 5th, just shortly after Lewis’ ACL surgery. He’s more articulate, confident, charismatic and thoughtful than most MLB veterans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coBBWY0hlBI
Here’s an awesome 45 minute USA Baseball interview with Royce Lewis from April of this year. It’s worth a watch, but as a warning, you’re going to come away from it pulling even harder for Lewis to succeed. Hard to believe it only had 70 views when I found it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooangyknwdg
So it all sounds great on paper, but there are quite a few lingering questions about Lewis. The question I’ve seen concern about most recently on Twins Daily is whether the Twins expect Lewis to stick at shortstop. In specific, there are some scouts out there who aren’t sold on Lewis’ arm at shortstop and Lewis has really struggled with errors in his first season at short in the minors. So what’s the problem with his arm if it’s graded as a 60? According to scouting reports I’ve dug up and read closely, it’s his release. Lewis’ throws tend to have a long release or windup which offsets his actual strength and there’s questions about his throwing accuracy. In 2020’s alternate site, the Twins worked closely with Lewis to improve his throwing technique to address those issues. If you watched the latter video link above, Lewis makes it very clear the Twins are dead set on Lewis being a shortstop so whatever concerns there are about his arm seem to exist only outside the organization.
The other question is about Lewis’ hit tool. Regardless of glowing scouting reports and athleticism, players have to ultimately put up the numbers at the plate worthy of promotion and playing time at the MLB level. Lewis’ hit tool has taken a huge beating over the past couple years. Lewis’ walk rate is poor and his strikeout rate is mediocre at best suggesting a poor eye at the plate and he had weak batting average and power numbers. Any of Lewis’ struggles are sometimes attributed to his exaggerated leg kick, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s massive. Leg kicks create problems when it comes to timing and Lewis’ leg kick is so early and large, it seems like it can put him in a position where he’s off balance when he needs to swing. Timing both the pitcher’s delivery and the pitch’s location and speed increases the difficulty of having success at the plate. But does a big leg kick have to be detrimental to a young player? Not at all. Royce Lewis has been quoted as being confident in his leg kick and positioning, but he understands people immediately turn to it because it’s unusual. If there’s one thing Twins fans who’ve followed our prospects know, a coaching staff having a player constantly fiddling with leg kicks makes a mess of young hitters. The Twins are also on record saying the leg kick is not a problem. Still, it’s the target of amateur batting coaches everywhere.
So how about that big leg kick being impossible for success? Let’s compare. A 23 year old Blue Jays All Star shortstop named Bo Bichette to our own 22 year old top prospect shortstop Royce Lewis. Bichette on the left and Lewis on the right.
Bichette generates most of his big power from his corkscrew approach, winding up his core so that his back angles towards the pitcher, and that approach is particularly problematic for timing and hit tools, but he makes it work because he keeps his balance and his shoulders and arms stay level. Lewis’ leg kick is very similar to Bichette, but Lewis’ mechanics are more simple and don’t involve the big corkscrew windup. Lewis’ swing has been called messy with too many moving components making it inconsistent. If you look at the images, though, you can see there isn’t a ton of extra noise and the Twins have been continuing to work with Lewis on his approach including the 2020 alternate site, though the high hands required Lewis to add movement before the swing both down and in the opposite direction of his swing beforehand. Keep in mind, the GIFs I created show Bichette this year and Lewis 2 years ago. Regardless, Bichette is All Star proof the leg kick can work just fine, even for a young player.
So if the leg kick isn’t preventing Lewis’ success, what’s wrong? Where are the results? Well, he was age 20 in AA and he only had 148 plate appearances at the level in the last season Lewis played, not to mention Lewis ripped the cover off the ball later that year at the Arizona Fall League to the tune of .353/.411/.565 OPS .975 in 95 plate appearances. When dealing with small sample sizes for a young player who is making adjustments, struggling can be part of the game. After all, the approach and adjustments are the most important part, not the end result. That said… I feel like the AFL is more tuned towards performance and getting experience than adjustments the coaching staff might make during the minor league season and Lewis absolutely produced and impressed there, just like you’d expect of a top prospect.
The linked scouting report breaks Lewis down quite a bit and provides some insight into his troubles at the plate. https://www.prospectslive.com/scoutingreports/royce-lewis “Shows an eye for the zone but does not want to walk; passive approach early in counts may play against him, yielding poor strikeouts and walks both.” Of course, the same scouting report attacks the leg kick, but if we’re to believe the leg kick isn’t the issue, Lewis has some significant room to improve with his approach at the plate to balance his aggression. That kind of thing can just come with experience… unless your name is NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario…
When it comes down to it, there is no prospect in the system with more potential to be a super star or who causes more anxiety with Twins fans than Royce Lewis. If any prospect has the character, work ethic and physical skills to make it all work, Lewis fits the bill. 2022 is unbelievably important for Lewis and his development. Here’s hoping the young prospect recovers fully from his ACL surgery, doesn’t lose a step and shows all the work at the alternate site and in the classroom pay off big time. The Twins could sure use an MLB caliber shortstop sooner than later and I’m sure nothing would please Lewis more than to prove he’s got what it takes.