Following historic postseason, Lewis still wants more

February 24th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Anyone who saw what did last postseason might be surprised to know that he feels he could have done more. Anyone who’s shared a clubhouse with him for five minutes wouldn’t expect any less.

“Do more” is what Lewis has built his brand around. The first overall selection of the 2017 Draft made his MLB debut at age 22 and was a household name during the ’23 postseason just one year later. Between those goalposts, the way he pushed to resume more activity each day toward the end of his second right ACL rehab made it very obvious that Lewis does not like to remain idle.

“I’d rather strike out four times in a game,” he quipped toward the end of that rehab, “than sit here and watch everyone hit.”

Lewis finished 0-for-2 in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Pirates during Minnesota’s 5-3 win at Lee Health Sports Complex. He didn’t have any defensive opportunities at third base in his four innings, but none of that mattered as much as being on the field again healthy, with no restrictions and staring down a full season.

“He ultimately handled [the rehab process] very well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It leads some guys into real challenging spots where they have to work their way out of these things before they can … actually take the field. And when they get back, they’re still dealing with the injuries and the mental side of it. He was able to shake that off so quickly.

“I think that was probably one of the most impressive parts of his season last year.”

It’s remarkable to think that in six years, Lewis transitioned from a fresh-faced prospect soaking up his first big league camp to thoughtful 24-year-old starter hungry to show what he can do with 162 games. The evolution is that much more impressive considering he lost one year to the COVID-19 pandemic and most of two others to a pair of right ACL surgeries.

While Lewis has dazzled in a small dose, the reality is that if not for a spate of bad luck, Twins nation could have seen a lot more of him a lot sooner. And so even though he’s sure to take time to recognize what he’s overcome and all he’s accomplished, Lewis knows that this is no time to coast.

“It's a hard game, and you have to be so focused and stay refined,” he said. “If you don't feel like you have anything to prove or you get too cocky, this game will humble you and take you right out.

“I want to be in this game as long as I can. And with that being said, I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can.”

Lewis slashed .309/.372/.548 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs last year despite a rehab process that took up most of 2022 and the first two months of the ’23 season along with a couple of dings (strained left oblique, strained left hamstring) that limited him to just 58 games. He still hit a club-record four grand slams during the season and then mashed a Twins-record-tying four homers in six playoff games. (To put that number into context, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett owns the club’s career postseason homers record… with five.)

Lewis is quick to point out that he only hit .227 in the postseason; four of his five hits just happened to go deep. He’d much rather have had the success that teammate Carlos Correa enjoyed (9-for-22) because consistency is valuable.

“I felt like I could have done more,” Lewis added. “People love home runs, but if I could have turned those four homers into eight singles or doubles, I would have preferred to do that.”

Still, the clutch performance didn’t go unnoticed. Lewis’ impressive first playoff go-round, his career 153 wRC+ and the fact that his 2023 regular-season numbers extrapolated over a full season add up to 41 home runs and 145 RBIs make him an attractive choice for a dark horse candidate to win the American League MVP Award.

That might be a stretch, but then again, Lewis has never had a full season to work with. Who knows?

“If he gets his work in … and has the same mentality that he's always had -- and I have no reason to think that's going to change -- he's going to be a guy that's hopefully one of our most productive players,” Baldelli said.