MINNEAPOLIS -- Top prospect Royce Lewis watched as many of his close friends made their Major League debuts last season. He worked hard at the alternate training site in St. Paul, Minn., as Aaron Whitefield, Ryan Jeffers, Brent Rooker, Travis Blankenhorn and Alex Kirilloff made the trek over to Minneapolis and donned the Twins' uniform for the first time.
Lewis could be nearing his own time to take the leap, too -- but his path to the Majors just got tougher with the signing of Andrelton Simmons to start at shortstop for the Twins in 2021.
Still, Lewis sees it as his latest opportunity to get better.
"I thought it was an amazing move," Lewis said Saturday as part of Virtual TwinsFest. "He's a great defensive shortstop. For me personally, I can't wait to learn from the guy. He's won more Gold Gloves than some of the top shortstops that we see in our league like Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Javier Báez, all these types of shortstops. And he's won more Gold Gloves than them. It'll be really interesting to learn."
Lewis has been an exemplary natural athlete who has worked hard on his still-developing defense since he was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. He played a bit of center field in the Arizona Fall League following the 2019 season due to roster constraints, but his focus remains at shortstop -- where he'll now have an opportunity to learn from Simmons, owner of four Gold Glove Awards, a Platinum Glove Award and the most Defensive Runs Saved in baseball over the last decade.
That learning process continued in earnest last spring when Lewis spent some time on the back fields at the Twins' complex with Josh Donaldson to pick his brain about the defensive techniques and instincts that have led to the veteran's success at the hot corner. Once this Spring Training gets underway, Simmons' exemplary instincts and baseball IQ should bring more to the table for Lewis, who drew rave reviews from his older teammates last spring for his curiosity, maturity and ability to handle information.
"When I'm on the field, I bring the awareness," Simmons said in his introductory press conference. "I try to, I wouldn't say educate, but keep everybody on their toes, making sure everybody knows what the next play should be. Where we should get the out or, 'Watch out for this runner, he's trying to steal. Make sure every base is covered.'"
"This is also something you can kind of pat Royce on the back about, too," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Royce is obviously a tremendously talented young man but also a guy that knows he still wants to learn, he still wants to get better. That’s his goal every day when he shows up to the ballpark. I think this is a great opportunity for the guys on our Major League team, but also our young players, too."
While at the alternate site in 2020, Lewis continue to progress with his defense and with toning down his swing, which had involved more movement with his hands and less direct usage of his lower half and stride when he first entered the system. Farm director Alex Hassan said that the quality of Lewis' contact and at-bats had improved throughout the year, and he was among the more productive offensive contributors in St. Paul.
Though the Twins' other top prospects were a step ahead of Lewis in their development in order to impact the club in 2020, the 21-year-old has remained comfortable with moving at his own pace. And he knows that he's likely got some more developmental time to go, considering he topped out with a .649 OPS in 33 games at Double-A Penascola in 2019 and hasn't yet seen any Triple-A action.
With that in mind, one benefit of the one-year, $10.5 million commitment to Simmons is that the Twins will be able to wait for Lewis to properly develop without blocking their top prospect's ability to advance and impact the team beyond this season, especially if Jorge Polanco adjusts effectively to second base.
"Royce is somebody we feel really good about in the future," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "Andrelton signed a one-year deal here. He'll be a big part of this team this year. That doesn't rule out anything in the future, but it isn't a long-term contract right now. We feel the same way about Royce as we always have. A guy that didn't get as many at-bats last year as we would have liked, so we want to continue to see him develop and get better."
And in the meantime, he can learn from the best.
"Hopefully, I won't bother [Simmons] too much by asking him too many questions about the defense," Lewis said.