Royce Lewis, former No. 1 pick, called up by Twins

May 7th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- When lost his entire 2021 season to a torn right ACL, he knew that when he next took the field, he'd have missed two full seasons of competitive professional baseball. Nobody knew what to expect upon his return -- except for Lewis himself.

"2022 is going to be scary and spooky, man," Lewis said following his ACL surgery in March '21. "Just watch out."

It looks like he was right. And now, his time has finally come.

Nearly five years after the Twins selected Lewis with the No. 1 pick of the 2017 MLB Draft, Minnesota is calling up the organization's top prospect and MLB Pipeline's No. 44 overall prospect ahead of Friday's series opener against the Oakland A's, with Carlos Correa unavailable with a bruised right middle finger and Luis Arraez headed to the COVID-19 injured list.

"I truly thought it was going to take a few more years," Lewis said. "To get the call and be shocked and amazed, it's truly a blessing. I can't wait to show off my skills and have fun and hopefully get some wins for the team."

Lewis immediately took advantage of the opportunity by lining a single to right off Kirby Snead in the eighth inning of Minnesota's 2-1 win, when he became just the second homegrown No. 1 overall pick to don the Twins' uniform, and the first since Joe Mauer debuted in 2004, three years after the Twins selected the catcher first overall in the '01 Draft.

Though Correa's preseason arrival seemed to take the pressure off of the 22-year-old Lewis to immediately prove himself MLB-ready in his first month back from serious injury, that's what he's seemingly done -- and he'll have the chance to show that off while Correa is down. That could only be a matter of days after a CT scan showed that Correa's right middle finger did not have a fracture, as originally feared after the shortstop was struck by a pitch in Baltimore on Thursday.

With that in mind, there's a chance that this first opportunity in the big leagues might be shorter than initially anticipated by both player and organization -- but Lewis knows that's not in his hands.

"[Correa] is going to work through his process to come back way stronger than ever, like he taught me how to do, and told me I was going to do," Lewis said. "And he gave me all that confidence, and he just gave me more confidence to come here and play and have fun, and when he gets back, we'll go from there."

Promoted to Triple-A for the first time to begin this season, Lewis at last showed off the full strength of the five-tool skillset the Twins saw in him when they selected him out as an 18-year-old out of JSerra Catholic High School in Orange County, Calif., slashing .310/.430/.563 through 24 games with three homers, 11 doubles and eight stolen bases.

More significantly, after posting a .290 on-base percentage across High-A and Double-A in 2019, Lewis' selectivity surged against Triple-A pitching this season, as he's walked 17 times, nearly as much as he's struck out (20).

Lewis finished up his Triple-A stint having reached base in 15 of his last 17 games, including each of his last eight. Not bad, considering he hadn't taken a competitive at-bat in two years.

"Knowing when to zone in, when to maybe take a walk, situationally knowing when to lay off a ball on the outer edge, it feels like I'm talking about Byron [Buxton] two years ago all over again," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "His progression and development was walking him through knowing how to shut down on certain pitches. So I think that's part of Royce's progression."

The immense physical talent was always there for Lewis to do these things on a baseball field.

He's always been one of the fastest players in the organization, the purest example of the athleticism that's helped him stick at shortstop despite some lack of polish. The power and contact ability have been there, too, but the big leg kick and long swing at the lower levels of the Minors sometimes disrupted his timing and stopped him from fully realizing that potential, particularly in '19, when he struggled to a .661 OPS.

But this season, Lewis has finally gotten the chance to show off the results of the hard work he put in behind the scenes at the alternate training site in '20 constantly cited by those who were around him in that time.

He talked of adjusting to a more direct swing and feeling much better about hitting the ball hard to all fields that year. Sidelined by the ACL tear in '21, Lewis would go back to his room following his workouts every day and watch every Twins game, continuing to develop the mental side of his skillset. He'd try and talk himself through how he'd attack the opponent's starting pitcher, develop a game plan and visualize himself executing that plan.

And he feels stronger physically than ever, having done all the conditioning he could in '21 while his leg healed.

"I keep telling people I feel like a powerlifter," Lewis joked this spring. "It’s all I would do -- is lift and go home, eat, sleep."

Being healthy alone while playing every day would have been a positive outcome for Lewis this April, considering all he's been through in the past two seasons and all the game action he's missed.

Instead, he surpassed all expectations. All expectations but his own sky-high standards for himself, anyway.

"Numbers-wise, it's good for everyone else, because then they actually believe in spooky and scary," Lewis said. "For me personally, I just felt so good that whatever happened on the field didn't matter. I'm going to keep with that same mindset each and every day. I'm going to give it my all and just feel as good as I possibly can and keep my body in shape and just go from there. Have fun doing it."