Royce Lewis rolls into Twins camp eyeing MLB job
After long rehab from ACL tear, top prospect brings new mindset into 2022
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Royce Lewis the person has not changed much since last you saw him. He's still enthusiastic. He's still confident. He's still got a head full of positive vibes.
Royce Lewis the player, however, has brought a little extra to Spring Training. After a year-plus of hard work, rehab, workouts and personal development, Lewis 2.0 is not only in business, he means business.
"I feel like I have a chance to start in the big leagues this year and make a difference," he said Tuesday. "I'm a difference-maker. I'm a ballplayer. I'll play wherever."
The 22-year-old carried that exact attitude into Spring Training one year ago when he was determined to make waves in camp before his intake physical revealed a torn ACL. Undaunted just one week after a Feb. 26, 2021, surgery scrapped his entire year, Lewis warned that 2022 was "going to be scary and spooky, man. Just watch out."
The time has come to make good on that threat, and Lewis seems as prepared as anyone. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the surgery, he hasn't played meaningful ball since 2019, but it hasn't slowed his momentum any. He also reported to Twins camp this week at a solid 205 pounds, joking before Tuesday's workouts that he feels like a power lifter.
And now, with a clean bill of health on that surgically repaired right knee, the Twins' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline is ready to finally -- ahem -- muscle his way back into the game. He won't break camp with the Twins, but Lewis also knows that with rehab behind him, he's back in the driver's seat.
"I have no doubt he's going to take the field with the same enthusiasm that he always does," manager Rocco Baldelli said Wednesday. "He’s going to have a good time. He's put himself in a good place to go out there and have a good year."
The road back wasn't always smooth, but Lewis will be the first to tell you he benefitted from each bump.
He came out of high school and wowed his way through Class A ball to reach Double-A in 2019, claimed Arizona Fall League MVP honors that year and turned heads at the Twins' alternate training site in 2020. The gifted five-tool athlete can drive the ball to all fields and offers plus speed on the bases and defensive versatility.
The knee injury, then, was obviously devastating for baseball's top pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, but Lewis quickly turned any potential disappointment into an opportunity to work on himself physically and mentally.
"Whether it was me sitting on the couch with the ACL injury or at the alt site [in 2020], I felt like I was always getting better somehow, which is fun," he said. "I think the more time you have to mature in this game, the better."
The past offseason was a bit atypical for Lewis as the lockout forced him to explore other workout and rehab options, but he seized that opportunity, too, landing with a good group near his Dallas-area home. Working alongside guys like Marcus Semien, Rowdy Tellez, Matt Lipka, Torii Hunter Jr., Matt Kemp and more increased his baseball IQ as much as it built confidence in his knee.
Soon enough, it'll all be on display.
"We're going to get him back out on the field soon, early in camp," Baldelli said. "He's allowed to have some fun, so we're going to let him have a good time out there and go play, but he also has a season to get ready for too, and that needs to be his main focus going forward."
It's hard to gauge where Lewis will start the year. He's still just 22 and has never played above Double-A, where he played just 33 games in 2019, so some additional seasoning might be in order.
Lewis said he'll happily accept whatever assignment is handed down but couldn't help but point out that given the opportunity, he would be far from the first young buck to blaze through the Minors, citing Kansas City's Bobby Witt Jr. and Detroit's Akil Baddoo as prime examples.
Witt, the Royals' No. 1 prospect, played just 37 games of Rookie-level ball in 2019, then started 2021 in Double-A and finished at Triple-A. He's poised to debut this season. Baddoo came up in the Twins' system and tapped out at Class A Advanced in 2019. The Tigers picked up the speedy outfielder in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft and sent him to Triple-A Toledo for four games before he debuted with Detroit at age 22, having skipped Double-A entirely.
Baddoo, at least, was promoted out of necessity. The Twins -- gratefully -- have the luxury of patience with Lewis. And with all the preparation in the past two years, the only thing left to do is see how well that transfers onto the field.
Baldelli isn't worried.
"I think he's going to be more than just OK," Baldelli said. "He's going to be a good player. He's just got to keep working, keep his head down and keep doing a good job. And he'll do all that."
MLB, Twins release revised 2022 schedule
On Wednesday, the Twins released their revised 2022 schedule, with the six games that were postponed at the season’s start worked into the slate.
The biggest change is that the MLB season was extended by three days to make room for several of those games. The three remaining contests will be made up throughout the season on mutual off-days and/or via doubleheaders during other scheduled series between Minnesota and its opponents. Here’s what changed for the Twins:
• The original three-game, season-opening series against the White Sox in Chicago will now be played Oct. 3-5.
• The second series of the season, a three-game set in Cleveland, will be made up in the form of doubleheaders on June 28 and Sept. 17 and a single game on what was previously an off-day, Sept. 19.
• In addition, the split doubleheader against the Tigers in Detroit, originally scheduled for July 23, is now a single game. The twin bill is moved to May 31.
The Twins’ complete 2022 schedule can be found at mlb.com/twins/schedule.