After missing two seasons, Royce Lewis probably didn't imagine making it to the big leagues at the beginning of May. Minnesota had few other options on the 40-man roster. While it appears Carlos Correa has avoided an IL-stint, Lewis still has been promoted to play shortstop while Correa is out and Luis Arraez is on the Covid IL. Lewis's professional career has included some bumps in the road, so let's look back at his time in the Twins organization.
Minnesota selected Lewis as the number one overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. At the time, there were a handful of other players in the mix for the top pick, including Hunter Greene, MacKenzie Gore, Brendan McKay, and Kyle Wright. Out of the top five picks, Lewis is the lone player yet to make his big-league debut, and four players from that first round have accumulated 1.6 WAR or more in their careers.
Shortly after signing, Lewis made his professional debut in the GCL, where he hit .271/.390/.414 (.803) with 11 extra-base hits in 36 games. Minnesota was aggressive and moved him to Low-A for the season's final 18 games, where he was over three years younger than the average age of the competition. He raised his batting average by 25 points after the promotion and still got on base over 36% of the time. It was a solid professional debut for the 18-year-old, and he was a consensus top-30 prospect on all three national top-100 lists.
During the 2018 season, Lewis split time between Low- and High-A. In 121 games, he hit .292/.352/.451 (.803) with 29 doubles, three triples, and 14 home runs. Some of his best numbers came in clutch spots as he also posted a .903 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position. While these numbers are strong, it's essential to consider that he was 19-years old. Only two of his plate appearances came against younger pitchers.
Lewis dealt with on-field struggles for the first time as his OPS dropped to .661, and he struck out 123 times in 127 games. He also committed 20 errors at shortstop. However, Lewis was over 3.5 years younger than the competition at Double-A. Minnesota sent Lewis to the Arizona Fall League following the season, where he performed very well. In 22 games, he hit .353/.411/.565 (.975) with nine doubles and three home runs. Only five months past his 20th birthday, the league managers voted Lewis as the AFL MVP.
COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season for all minor league players, but Lewis was part of the group of players that was able to work at the alternate site. Minnesota spoke highly of his development on both sides of the ball during the shutdown. "Offensively, it's been a lot of work on his lower half, and his lower half direction," Twins assistant general manager Jeremy Zoll said. "He performed well with the opportunities he had, and he's poised for a big step forward."
Unfortunately, Lewis wasn't able to showcase that step forward in 2021. Entering the 2021 season, his intake physical revealed a torn ACL in his right knee that required surgery. Lewis showed maturity beyond his years when facing the adversity involved with major surgery. He built strength in all parts of his body during the rehab process, but he was clear on the goal. "2022 is going to be scary and spooky, man," Lewis said. "Just watch out.
It's truly amazing what Lewis has been able to do in his return to the field during the 2022 campaign. In 23 games for the Saints, he hit .310/.427/.560 (.987) with 14 extra-base hits. He is over three years younger than the average age of the competition at Triple-A, and he is showing no signs of rust that may be associated with missing multiple seasons. His prediction about the 2022 season was correct, but now he will need to translate that success to the big-league level.
Congratulations to Lewis on the big-league promotion. What will you remember most about his minor league career? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.