Twins' No. 1 prospect Lewis has ACL tear

February 24th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Shortstop , the top prospect in the Twins' organization, will miss the entire 2021 season due to a full tear of his right ACL, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey announced Wednesday.

Lewis will fly to the Twin Cities and will undergo reconstruction surgery on Friday with Dr. Christopher Camp, the club's orthopedic surgeon. The Twins won't have clarity as to Lewis' recovery timeline until the procedure is complete, but Falvey said it typically takes players nine to 12 months to return to full play following this type of surgery.

It's another tough developmental blow for the former No. 1 overall Draft selection and MLB Pipeline's No. 17 overall prospect, who will go two full seasons without appearing in a competitive game. Though Lewis spent the entire 2020 season at the Twins' alternate training site in St. Paul, Minn., his last game action was in the '19 Arizona Fall League, where he won the league's Most Valuable Player Award. If he returns in time for the '22 Minor League season, he'll have gone 29 months without a game appearance.

"A player like Royce has such raw, incredible athleticism, and the baseball-refined skills were coming," Falvey said. "It's disappointing for sure because this is lost development time for him, but we'll just have to make sure when he comes back he gets as many of those reps as he can as creatively as we can. That will drive the next steps in his development."

The Twins don't know for sure when or how Lewis sustained the injury, which only presented as a slight soreness in the knee until Lewis underwent an MRI exam as part of a physical at Spring Training on Monday. According to Falvey, Lewis felt sore while doing some side-to-side running drills during the offseason in preparation for camp, which became exacerbated when Lewis slipped on a patch of ice during the recent winter storms in Texas.

Lewis is expected to remain in the Twin Cities recovering for several days before he returns to Fort Myers to begin his rehab program.

Considering Lewis is just 21 years old, there's still plenty of time for him to advance through the organization, and this should mark a developmental hurdle, but not a barrier. Still, it's tough for Lewis and the Twins to miss a full season of at-bats following a difficult 2019 season at the plate (a .661 OPS across two levels) and his mechanical work at the alternate training site in '20, in which he toned down the movement with his hands and became more direct with his lower half in his swing.

"That work really paid off for him, and he really started to impact the ball, have competitive at-bats, and was one of our more productive offensive players at the alternate site," farm director Alex Hassan said.

Lewis was likely to have started the 2021 season with Double-A Wichita and would have continued to progress toward the Major Leagues in the "medium term," Falvey said.

It's particularly bad timing considering this camp would have offered Lewis a prime opportunity to continue working with mentor figures like Josh Donaldson in the batting cage and Andrelton Simmons in the infield. The latter is a particularly significant consideration, given Lewis has been raw at shortstop since he entered the system and has worked hard to develop his polish and instincts at the position.

"If there’s a way later on to find a way to get some sort of connection there or some sort of benefit, we’ll do that," manager Rocco Baldelli said of getting Lewis and Simmons together. "I think we’re a little ways away from that. I think we’re going to slow it down and focus on Royce, and getting him medically in the best possible spot right now."

The timing also isn't ideal for the organization in that Lewis will become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this coming offseason, and the club will need to add him to the 40-man roster and begin using his Minor League options as part of his delayed progress through the high Minors. It might not be a quick rise, either, as Lewis owns a career .740 OPS and peaked with only 33 games at Double-A in 2019.

Still, the Twins find it difficult to bet against Lewis, not only because of his exceptional raw athleticism, but also the maturity, curiosity and positivity far beyond his years that became plain to the club's Major Leaguers last spring.

And in typical Lewis fashion, he's still bringing that maturity and positivity into this next challenge.

"While disappointing, he’s Royce -- he’s got a smile on his face, knows he’s going to have a rehab year ahead, knows he’s going to have to put in a lot of work," Falvey said. "But he’s prepared and ready to do that, and I know he’s looking forward to getting back on the field sometime hopefully going into next winter and ultimately preparing for next Spring Training."