Royce Lewis will be back. Don’t you worry about that.
That didn’t lessen the blow -- both inside and outside the clubhouse -- when Lewis, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, was optioned back to Triple-A St. Paul last week in Oakland following a highly successful first look at the big leagues, with Carlos Correa coming off the injured list and obviously expected to man shortstop on an everyday basis.
But if you look at the 22-year-old Lewis’ usage upon his return to the Saints, it sure seems like the Twins are already adapting their usage of the young shortstop to facilitate his return to the big leagues sooner rather than later.
Prior to this season, Lewis had made essentially all of his professional defensive appearances at shortstop, his primary position. But since his return to St. Paul? Here’s where he’s appeared:
May 19: Shortstop
May 20: Third base
May 21: Left field
May 22: Shortstop
May 24: Shortstop
For the first time in Lewis’ career, the Twins are making a concerted effort to move him around, to better prepare him for a possible multipositional role or a fit somewhere other than shortstop if the opportunity presents itself at the big league level. That could help him be the next man up in multiple scenarios -- and not just another situation in which Correa is down for an extended period.
“I would expect [Royce] to help us again at some point,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It gives him, I think, the ability and the confidence to come to this level and potentially contribute not as a shortstop. I think he can handle it. I think he can do it. But for a guy to do it and to give him the best possible opportunity, I think we get him the work and we get him a handful of games.”
Baldelli said that the majority of the opportunities to move around will come at third base and left field, though second base and center field aren’t out of the question, either. Keep in mind, too, that Lewis’ primary position for much of high school was third base. But all of this remains in the context that the Twins want to continue to develop him primarily as a shortstop -- with the versatility coming as an added “in-case” bonus.
“Every player that starts moving around handles it a little bit [differently],” Baldelli said. “So it's a different adjustment, and you're doing it for different reasons. I do think that the game action will help him. I do think that the pregame action might be even more important than getting out there for the games.”
Here’s my take on what that could mean: Lewis is, and will continue to be, a shortstop. He’ll get the chance to continue to be a near-everyday shortstop and develop as such in Triple-A, making up for all the precious time he lost due to the pandemic and his torn right ACL. He’ll also get to do a lot of catching up at third base and left field in pregame work, as Baldelli said, getting the best of both worlds in his traditional shortstop development and pushing the versatility, in a way.
In the big leagues, that combination likely wouldn’t have been possible.
In the meantime, these Twins keep winning -- but the road often doesn’t stay this smooth for long, health-wise. When the next bump hits, Lewis could be the guy once again -- and he’ll be more ready.