CLEVELAND -- Now that Carlos Correa is back in the Twins’ mix as their long-term shortstop, the next order of business is in figuring out how Royce Lewis will eventually fit into the roster puzzle upon his return -- which looks like it could come sooner than expected.
The Twins announced Sunday that Lewis, the club’s No. 2 prospect, will begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Wichita on Thursday, with the idea that he’ll eventually progress to Triple-A St. Paul. He will focus defensively at both shortstop and third base, which could give Lewis more options to fit on an increasingly crowded Twins roster when he’s eligible to return.
Position players’ rehab assignments are capped at 20 days, which means the Twins will reach a decision point at the end of May as to whether they’ll move Lewis to their active roster or keep him in Triple-A. That’s also when Lewis is eligible for activation from the 60-day injured list.
Either way, this seems to put Lewis well ahead of the 12-13 month recovery timeline the Twins have publicly maintained since the surgery to repair the re-torn ACL in his right knee last June 21 -- and soon enough, questions of defensive fit and opportunity will arise.
“It was a long discussion, and maybe it’s still an ongoing discussion,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said last week. “But what he’s going to do is he’s going to play short and he’s going to play third and he’s going to stay on that side of the field right now to get all of his work and build up. It gives us another longer-term option for him.”
The Twins kept Lewis’ focus at shortstop as he rose up the Minor League ladder, but it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll have the luxury of preparing to play any one position in the Majors, with Correa, Jose Miranda and Jorge Polanco manning everyday roles at shortstop, third base and second base for the time being.
That means Lewis will have to maintain his defensive versatility to eventually find playing time when he returns -- and even that might be out of his hands, with talented young players like Trevor Larnach and Matt Wallner stuck in Triple-A due to the Twins’ abundance of position players.
And though Lewis’ brief foray into center field led to this most recent ACL tear on a collision with the outfield wall last May 29, the Twins don’t seem to be altogether ruling out the idea of putting him back out on the grass, if that’s their positional need -- though that won’t be a priority for now.
“I’m not going to make any firm statements on where Royce is going to be playing and where he’s not,” Baldelli said. “He’s a very good athlete. He’s a very versatile player. Sometimes, the needs of a Major League team change -- and they can change very quickly -- but right now, we’re going to have him in the infield.”
Triple-A St. Paul: Balazovic off to strong start
Don’t look now, but Jordan Balazovic might be starting to turn things around. After a brutal 2022 season in which he posted a 7.68 ERA as a full-time Triple-A player and a Spring Training setback due to a broken jaw sustained during a late night in downtown Fort Myers, Fla., Balazovic has been very effective as he has slowly added to his workload with the Saints.
The onetime top prospect has a 2.45 ERA through six appearances, with 17 strikeouts and eight walks in 11 innings. And though he began stretching out in the bullpen, he made his first start of the season on Wednesday, throwing 60 pitches as he held Nashville to one hit over 3 1/3 innings.
Double-A Wichita: Lee keeps raking
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that No. 1 prospect Brooks Lee sure can hit. The Twins’ first-round selection of the 2022 MLB Draft has looked at home in the high Minors following his aggressive promotion to Double-A at the end of last season, and he’s now hitting .309/.374/.485 in 24 games for the Wind Surge following an 8-for-18 week with four doubles that made him the organization’s Minor League Player of the Week.
High-A Cedar Rapids: The next pitching wave?
The Twins have been very high on organizational No. 6 prospect Marco Raya despite a measured start to his professional career due to injuries and the pandemic, and he turned in three scoreless innings to start a shutout on Friday that was completed by a six-inning, nine-strikeout effort in relief from Pierson Ohl.
The Kernels also got a very impressive effort on Wednesday from 19-year-old Alejandro Hidalgo -- acquired in the offseason Gio Urshela trade -- who was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Week for striking out nine in 5 1/3 scoreless innings on Wednesday.
In other encouraging news, the Kernels also activated No. 3 prospect Emmanuel Rodriguez from the injured list on Saturday following a two-and-a-half-week absence with an abdominal strain.