Royce Lewis on rehab: 'My future's still bright'

Top prospect, out for the season after ACL surgery, plans to come back stronger in '22

March 4th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- truly believed he was going to show up to Spring Training and force his way into the Twins' plans for the immediate future -- "Almost like a [Fernando] Tatis- or Juan Soto-type deal," he says. That's how excited he was about the work he got done at the alternate training site last season.

There will be no such breakout for the Twins' No. 1 prospect and MLB's No. 17 after his intake physical revealed a torn ACL in his right knee that required surgical reconstruction at the Mayo Clinic last Friday.

You'd expect him to sound a little more disappointed about that. But the trademark maturity and positivity that have carried Lewis through the ups and downs of his professional career somehow shine brighter than ever as he faces his biggest obstacle yet.

"My youth, and knowing that my future’s still bright," Lewis said of what keeps him optimistic. "I'm strong, and I’m not going to let something like this tear me down, literally and figuratively. It’s just going to be a good year for me to grow. I didn’t expect myself to start in the big leagues this year either way, so my mentality was, 'How am I going to grow and continue to learn?'

"I can still do those things while I’m hurt."

It'll be a long road back from the ACL tear that Lewis believes came as the result of a three-cone agility drill session during the offseason. (He wants to set the record straight, too, that he slipped, but didn't completely fall on the ice as he set up security cameras around his Texas home on Feb. 18.)

Lewis eagerly pointed out that former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson needed considerably less than the traditional timeline of nine to 12 months to recover from an ACL tear, and Lewis would have loved to set that goal for himself, too. He understands, though, that even that accelerated timeline wouldn't get him back into games this season, and he accepts the fact that he'll have to set his sights on Spring Training in a year.

He's not worried about hitting that target.

"Watch out: My body is a beast," he told the Twins' trainers. "You've just got to work with me."

For now, he'll be on crutches for the next two to four weeks before he can start walking unassisted. (He hopes that he can get his car to Florida at some point so that he can at least drive to Chick-fil-A to mix up his food intake.) His understanding is that he'll be evaluated week to week after that, likely involving jogging and exercise bike activity at two to four months as he continues to ramp up.

He'll remain at the Twins' Minor League academy throughout that process. At the front end, he's still hoping to even just be able to watch Twins veterans in camp like shortstop Andrelton Simmons and DH Nelson Cruz and pick their brains before the club heads north to Milwaukee for Opening Day on April 1.

"Locking in on what’s going on around him is going to be very important," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "There’s a lot of benefit to watching great players and guys that have great routines and learning from them, and sometimes it’s not even a conversation. Sometimes it’s just having your eyes and ears open, and that’s something that I think Royce is actually excited about as an opportunity.

"This is not what we were obviously shooting for when the year started, of course, but it’s the reality of what his year is going to be."

This was supposed to be an important year of development for Lewis, who has been lauded for his raw tools since his selection with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 Draft but hasn't been able to translate that to consistent results in the Minors and remains a work in progress at shortstop. As he pointed out, though, he's young -- still 21 years old until June -- and he hopes the time away will help him continue to mentally develop.

It still won't be the same as building off his 2019 Arizona Fall League MVP campaign and a '20 season in which he felt much better about his ability to spray the ball to all fields with a more direct swing. He'll have to wait another year before he can take that newfound confidence onto the field and prove that his .231/.291/.358 line at Double-A Pensacola during the '19 season wasn't indicative of his potential.

He's already looking forward to it.

"2022 is going to be scary and spooky, man," Lewis said. "Just watch out."