This was supposed to be a critical year for Royce Lewis. Back in 2019, he struggled for the first time in his professional career as the Twins were aggressive and pushed him up to Double-A. He was projected to head back to that level in 2021 with a chance to make his big-league debut before season’s end. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case and Lewis will go over 900 days without getting a professional at-bat.
Minnesota is no stranger to top prospects being hit by the injury bug. Alex Kirilloff, Twins Daily’s highest rank Twins prospect, missed the entire 2017 campaign due to Tommy John surgery. Even with the missed season, he came back with a vengeance in 2018 as he was one of MiLB’s best hitters that season. Obviously, Kirilloff was able to recover and put himself back on the prospect map, which is something Twins fans can hope for with Lewis.
Before Lewis and Kirilloff, Byron Buxton was widely considered the team’s top prospect and many national rankings had him as one of the baseball’s best prospects. Buxton’s injury history has been well documented as he was limited to 103 combined games between his third and fourth professional seasons. Those injury woes have followed him to the big-league level as he as he has only had one season where he has played more than 95 games.
Prior to Buxton, Miguel Sano was the team’s top prospect, and he was widely considered one of baseball’s top-10 prospects. He was forced to miss all his age-21 season after needing Tommy John surgery. It still didn’t stop him from making his big-league debut the very next year and he’s been with the Twins ever since.
Kyle Gibson had a short stint as the Twins’ best prospect, and he seemed to be rocketing to the MLB level. Entering the 2011 season, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had him in their top-55 prospects. Unfortunately, he had Tommy John surgery in November 2011 and wouldn’t be back until the end of the 2012 season.
Going further back, there certainly more examples of prospects hit by the injury bug. Francisco Liriano famously blew out his elbow while the 2006 Twins seemed like they would have been unstoppable in the playoffs. Joe Mauer’s career started on a bad note as he needed knee surgery shortly into his rookie campaign.
One player some people might forget is Jason Kubel. He seemed destined to be a middle of the order power bat that could bring above average defense at multiple outfield positions. Entering the 2005 season, Baseball America ranked him as baseball’s 17th overall prospect. He was able to return from injury and have a decade long big-league career, but his outlooked was significantly changed after his leg injury.
Many of the players on this list went on to have solid big-league careers, but there will also be questions about what could have been. How good could Kubel have been? Would the Twins have won the 2006 World Series with a healthy Liriano? How much better would Mauer’s numbers look with another full season?
Lewis finds himself among some of the best Twins players in recent memory, but it is a list that he never wanted to join.
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