Twins top prospect Lewis tears ACL for second time
Comeback year is cut short for former No. 1 pick, who is out until next June
MINNEAPOLIS -- Royce Lewis’ dream season is over, far too soon.
Lewis, the No. 39 prospect in baseball and the top-ranked prospect in the Twins’ organization, will have season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn ACL in his right knee, manager Rocco Baldelli announced Friday. The 22-year-old has now torn that same ACL twice in a year and a half. He missed all of last season following his February 2021 surgery to repair the ligament the first time.
Now, he’ll have to undergo the entire grueling process -- surgery, rehab, building back -- one more time, with a 12-month timetable initially set for his recovery after he tore the ACL again while making a leaping catch at the center-field wall during a May 29 game against the Royals.
That had been his first appearance since he’d been recalled from the Minors for an extended look with the Twins -- and possibly, the opportunity to stick in the big leagues for good if he’d continued his strong performance.
“It sucks, right?” Lewis said. “Finally playing again, having so much fun doing it, and didn’t care where I played, where I was hitting, not hitting, on the bench. As long as I was healthy, having a chance to play. And now it’s all over again. Part two.”
Lewis said he could have avoided surgery and was presented with two options: undergoing the reconstructive surgery or waiting it out and eventually trying to wear a brace and play through it. But he opted for the second ACL reconstruction after both doctors had noted that trying to play through the injury could eventually lead to a full tear or a full blowout of the knee, anyway -- and that could have led to a more invasive reconstruction, somewhere down the line.
It’s no insignificant decision, considering he’ll likely be sidelined until next June after having missed the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 shutdown of the Minor Leagues and all of ‘21 due to his previous ACL tear. That will make it the vast majority of three consecutive seasons of competitive action that he’ll have missed when he next takes the field.
But he firmly believes this course of action is what’s best for his future, and that of the team.
“Just looking at it as, how can I help this team out in the future to the best of my ability?” Lewis said. “I feel like the surgery was the best route to do that and to not have to wear a brace, like Tom Brady or an offensive lineman out there. Speed is one of the best parts of my game and one of the best assets to me, so I want to continue to be fast and get that back.”
Lewis said that this surgery will be mostly the same as his previous procedure, except this time, the ACL is only partially torn, as opposed to the full tear he had last February. He’s not fully sure of the details, but there will also be some sort of brace involved in his knee this time that will strengthen and stabilize the area, since there’s more give in the joint right now.
And two other things are notably different this time around.
First, he has gone through this entire recovery process before. He knows exactly what to expect, and he knows that his body handled it well the first time. There’s much less uncertainty, every step of the way, this time.
“I’m not afraid of the surgery, that’s for sure,” Lewis said. “The first time, I think I definitely was. If I told you I wasn’t, I was definitely hiding it. But now I’ve been through it. I feel like it’s something I can definitely challenge.”
And second, he has now had a successful taste of the big leagues. Even after having spent two full years away from competitive action, he came back better than ever in 2022, immediately thriving after his aggressive promotions to both Triple-A and MLB. He hit .313/.405/.534 with the St. Paul Saints and .300/.317/.550 with two homers and four doubles in 12 games as a big leaguer.
He showed the Twins that all the missed development and the reconstructed knee couldn’t get in his way. More importantly, he showed himself that those setbacks wouldn’t hold him back.
"I was kind of joking with him,” said friend and teammate Trevor Larnach, who came up with Lewis through the Minors. “He got a tease; he did his thing. He went off, showed that he belongs. … He got teased, and now he knows what it takes, and he'll learn from anything that might have happened that might have shocked him. He's going to come back even stronger. I don't doubt that at all."
It might be easy to second-guess the circumstances under which this injury occurred, with Lewis in center field instead of his customary post at shortstop. But neither Baldelli nor Lewis expressed any regrets about moving Lewis around the field to find him big league playing time, even with the situation ending the way it did.
It was simply a “rare, unfortunate freak accident,” Baldelli said. Lewis concurred, and noted that he’d simply been thrilled for the opportunity to continue his career, learn at the big league level and help a first-place team push for the playoffs -- even if it hadn’t been at his natural position. He’s not looking back, one bit.
And if there’s one thing to know about the former No. 1 overall Draft pick, it’s that he’s the most relentlessly positive person in that clubhouse on any given day, with limitless faith in his ability and his body. Just 16 months ago, he called his body a “beast” and that he’d be “spooky and scary” upon his return, the first time.
He was. And he knows he can do it again.
“I think it helps that I’m literally living my best life and dream,” Lewis said. “And just the blessing I’ve had, that God has bestowed upon me and my family, for me to be able to take care of my family and myself. I just appreciate the opportunity, and I know he’s not taking that away. It’s just a pause, just another setback, that honestly will push me forward and propel me to greater heights.”
“It’s not easy, but it can be done,” Baldelli said. “If you’re going to bet on a guy to do it, you’re going to bet on a guy like Royce Lewis.”