MINNEAPOLIS -- All the way back in mid-March, Royce Lewis was already thinking about Houston.
At that point, only nine months removed from his second ACL surgery, Lewis was already doing everything he could to talk the Twins into moving up his recovery timeline -- but they stood firm and placed him on the 60-day IL. After that, he could recite from memory that he would be clear to rejoin the Twins on May 29, when the team would be on the road in Houston.
Well, the Twins boarded their plane for Houston following a sloppy and listless 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday at Target Field -- and just as he’d hoped, Lewis is on that flight with them, his long second journey back to the Majors finally complete. Exactly a year after he re-tore his ACL last May 29, Lewis was activated from the 60-day IL to join Minnesota’s active roster on Monday in what should be a welcome jolt to an offense that still desperately needs one.
“I think this is a culmination of a lot of hard work from Royce,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I’m excited to see Royce back out on the field. He can jolt you with the enthusiasm and all of the exciting things that he can do, but he's a good young player and he’s had a long road to get back to this point.”
Lewis and Max Kepler both came off the IL ahead of the Twins’ series opener in Houston on Monday, with Kyle Garlick and Matt Wallner optioned to Triple-A St. Paul in corresponding moves. The Twins cleared a spot on their 40-man roster by transferring Nick Gordon (fractured tibia) to the 60-day IL.
With Carlos Correa seemingly doing OK after his plantar fasciitis scare, Lewis, the Twins’ No. 2 prospect, could slot into regular action at third base, where he spent significant time on his rehab assignment.
The Twins need this boost -- and, just as significantly, Lewis needed this boost.
Even back in spring, Lewis was already talking with uncharacteristic frustration about how difficult it had been for him to lose large chunks of two consecutive seasons while watching from the sidelines, and it’s tough to blame him for wanting to speed up the return process as much as he could, especially after he’d found success in a small but tantalizing taste of the Majors.
“I know they're protecting me in the long run,” Lewis said at the end of Spring Training. “It's kind of like parents:
'I want to go to the party!'
'It's not smart for you to go to a party!'
"And then they can't really give you a good answer of why. That's what it feels like right now. It's just hard because I feel so good.”
And when he finally got his chance to get back on the field, he looked more than ready.
Since starting his rehab assignment on May 11, Lewis has hit .333/.395/.692 with four homers, two doubles, four stolen bases and a 1.087 OPS in 10 games across Double-A Wichita and Triple-A St. Paul, including five multi-hit appearances.
At his best, Lewis and his extreme raw talent have the potential to be a dynamic difference-maker on offense, with solid power and contact ability that showed in his 12-game cameo in the Majors last year, during which he hit two homers -- including a grand slam against Cleveland -- and four doubles. His blazing speed has always been one of his defining tools, but it remains to be seen how much he’ll be willing to push that coming off two torn ACLs.
But more than anything, Lewis’ natural optimism, charisma and positivity could have an important role in this clubhouse as the lineup slumps and the team takes close loss after close loss. The club clearly felt that presence in his short time around the team in two stints last season before he tore the right ACL for a second time in a collision with the center-field wall, leading to his June 21 surgery.
“Nick [Gordon] not being here, you can tell just a little bit how the mood is,” Byron Buxton said. “Nick is that Energizer Bunny in that dugout. It's weird not hearing his voice. It's just keeping things loose. … Royce, he brings more energy, [too]. Just kind of build off of that.”
And the constant smile -- they definitely remember that smile. They’ll see it again soon.