Comeback on, Lewis 'just excited to play' -- and learn

Twins' No. 2 prospect not short on confidence as he continues return from ACL tear

March 12th, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. -- All has been able to do for a large part of two straight years is sit out, build up and watch from the sidelines -- with a tantalizing cameo in the Majors to motivate him even more. So, now that he’s able to take part in baseball activity, it’s hard to blame him for just wanting to go, go, go.

“I'm just excited to play,” Lewis said. “I'll probably smile when I fly out or strike out. I don't really care. I'd rather strike out four times in a game than sit here and watch everyone hit. It's so hard to sit there and be on the sidelines. I'm tired of it. It's not fun.”

The Twins’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline has long been known for his relentless positivity, even in his toughest moments -- and that’s why those last two sentences are telling. Two torn ACLs in his right knee in a year and a half can deplete even the most endless reserves of joy -- and Lewis has kept thinking about that moment, last May 29, when he made a leap into the center-field wall and paid the price.

Now that Lewis feels healthy, he sees the finish line to this second recovery drawing closer, as he’s hitting in the cages, running and fielding within a five-foot radius. Spurred by the frustration of all these extra months away, he’s vowing to preserve himself, to prioritize his body and availability above all else.

“It's not worth it,” Lewis said. “One out. I look back on it. One out. Even though I'm glad I helped Sonny [Gray], it's not worth it for my six, seven months, 10 months that I have to wait. I'm just going to be very smart. … Maybe next time, we'll throw a little bit of a better pitch instead of giving up a double, and you won't be mad when I'm healthy and saving other plays or hitting home runs.”

The Twins are also going to be smart with Lewis’ timeline, even as the young shortstop raves about how good he feels to anyone in his orbit. He ramped up the running and lateral movement once he got to Fort Myers this spring, and he departed camp on Sunday to check in again with Dr. Steven Singleton, who performed his second ACL surgery, with the hope of being cleared for live hitting during the last two weeks of camp and into extended Spring Training.

If you ask Lewis, he says he’s ready to play this very minute, though he hasn’t hit live or completed his lateral movement progression -- but the Twins have noted throughout this process that they’ve had to temper Lewis’ expectations and slow him down. They’ve always publicly maintained an expectation of a 12-13 month recovery timeline for Lewis following his surgery last June 21, adding that he should be able to contribute in the second half.

Lewis wants to push that. Now that he’s on the 60-day injured list, he even knows that the Twins are in Houston the day he’ll be eligible for activation in late May.

“It's hard when you don't really have a say,” Lewis said. “I know they're protecting me in the long run. It's kind of like parents. 'I want to go to the party!' 'It's not smart for you to go to a party!' 'OK, why?' And then they can't really give you a good answer of why. That's what it feels like right now. It's just hard because I feel so good.”

The reason the Twins will stick with their 12-13 month timeline, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey explained, is that Lewis’ repaired ACL is indeed now functional, but he needs to go through the full rehab process to strengthen the quadriceps and other protective muscles around the ligament to prevent further injury. That just takes time.

“There's a reason this rehab process looks the way it does,” Falvey said. “The good news is that he's tracking the way I think he'd hope.”

Lewis feels more freed by the knowledge that he’s already shown some success in the big leagues, hitting .300/.317/.550 with two homers and four doubles in his 12-game Twins cameo after his recovery from the first ACL tear.

And once he finally returns, so, too, will the joy.

“I learned that every time I get put down, I come back stronger,” Lewis said. “So, why would I not bet on myself? … I don't think there's anything that can really stop me, to be honest.”