Royce Lewis made his 2023 debut Thursday night with Double-A Wichita after rehabbing in Florida earlier this spring. Lewis, who figures to play shortstop and third base for the Twins’ minor league farm team, struck out three times and was hit by a pitch. He cleanly handled one chance in the field at third base.
Not a “wow start,” but predictable for a player on recovery road. And Saturday was better, with Lewis having two hits in three at bats and driving in a run for the Wind Surge.
Last year Lewis had ACL surgery on his right knee for a second time, having also suffered a tear requiring surgery in 2021. Understandably the Twins’ approach with Lewis is cautious. “He will come out of games early, then get a day off,” Twins executive Derek Falvey told Sports Headliners. … ”It’s really a slow ramp up for him.”
It’s been a weird path the last few years for Lewis. He and other minor leaguers didn’t play during the 2020 COVID year. He missed all of 2021 because of the first ACL injury. Then last year after being promoted from Triple-A to the Twins he suffered that second ACL injury on May 29.
“We want to be very attentive to the return (in 2023),” said Falvey, the team’s chief baseball officer. “Maybe even more conservative than you might normally be. I think just putting him in the best position to be healthy.”
Falvey said there is no timetable for a return by Lewis to the Twins. That will be determined by “health, performance and opportunity,” Falvey explained.
At 23, Lewis is still considered among Minnesota’s most valued prospects, but will he retain the athleticism and other attributes that convinced the Twins to make him their No. 1 draft pick in 2017? Will he, for instance, have the same elite range in the field that made him both a special infield and outfield prospect? The same pop in his bat that he showed in 12 games with the Twins last season, hitting .300 with two home runs and five RBI?
After two surgeries and so much time off, those are unanswerable questions now. Falvey said, “But in theory it’s fixed. It’s not a muscle injury. It’s a ligament. So ultimately when the ligament is fixed his athleticism, his burst, his speed, his power should all be the same. We just need to keep him as healthy as possible.”
The Twins are struggling to score runs and the kind of bat Lewis showed last season would be welcome. After hitting .313 in 34 games at Triple- A St. Paul, Lewis teased Twins fans with his potential at bat and in the field where he played 11 games at short and one in center field.
The Twins could have an ASAP need at third base this season. After an impressive rookie season in 2022, Jose Miranda got off to a disappointing start hitting and in the field before being demoted to St. Paul. Kyle Farmer, 32, is the replacement for now but not long term.
Falvey said the front office and Lewis have also talked about the native Californian playing in the outfield. “He is such an eager kid. He just wants to find a way to help the team,” Falvey said.
Hopefully, Lewis finds his spot with the Twins and has a long run with the club, but Falvey pointed out the uncertainty of big-league baseball careers. He said this spring MLB’s 30 teams only have about 4.5 players on their rosters who played for them in 2019. The Twins have three 2019 alums from the opening day roster: second baseman Jorge Polanco who was a shortstop then, DH Byron Buxton who was the centerfielder, and right fielder Max Kepler who is still in the same position.
Lewis is considered the Twins’ No. 2 prospect behind Brooks Lee, the club’s 2022 No. 1 draft choice. His background, too, is shortstop and he is also at Wichita. Falvey told Lee in spring training he didn’t care if the Cal Poly alum hit “.100 or .700,” he just wanted him to learn from veterans like shortstop Carlos Correa and Buxton about how to prepare and be a big leaguer.
Lee hit .303 with three minor league teams last year and is off to a .258 start this spring. He is an impressive athlete who can help a team in multiple ways including in the field. “I think this kid is a big part of our future,” Falvey said.
Former Twins infielder and 2022 AL batting champion Luis Arraez is leading the majors in hitting with a .379 average. Pitcher Pablo Lopez, who the Twins acquired during the offseason in a trade sending Arraez to the Marlins, is 2-2 with a 3.47 ERA.
Falvey said the Twins tried to make different deals “without Luie in it but couldn’t.” He added the Marlins, in need of offense, were “fixated on Luie and we were fixated on Pablo.” The Twins believe high performance starting pitching is difficult to find.
Since the trade the Twins have reached agreement with Lopez on a four-year contract extension that commits him from 2024-2027. Falvey doesn’t anticipate any similar deals during the rest of the season including with pitcher Sonny Gray who has been dominant with a 1.39 ERA and 4-0 record. He is a free agent in the fall.
Not only has Gray been the team’s best pitcher but he contributes to a healthy environment in the clubhouse. “Sonny gets along with everybody. He engages with everybody in the room,” Falvey said.
In last year’s draft the Twins selected Ben Ross in the fifth round out of Notre Dame College in Ohio (yes, that is correct). Another shortstop, Ross is hitting .308 at High-A Twins affiliate Cedar Rapids and committed only one error in the field.
The late Herb Carneal would have turned 100 last Wednesday. The radio voice of the Twins for 45 seasons, Carneal started broadcasting games for the club in 1962, one year after the franchise relocated to Minnesota from Washington D.C.
Danny Olsen is the new Eastview High School boys’ basketball coach, replacing long-time and much-admired head coach Paul Goetz. Olsen, a 1999 Eastview grad, has extensive AAU and high school coaching experience. The last 10 years he has been the head sophomore coach at Eastview and a varsity assistant.
Dick Jonckowski shares emcee duties with sports columnist Charley Walters Monday night at the 37th annual Mancini’s Sports Hall of Fame dinner at Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul. Former Cretin Derham-Hall quarterback Steve Walsh, who played at Miami and in the NFL, is among the inductees.
Jonckowski will emcee and speak Friday night in Fridley at the Minnesota Senior Sports Association’s seventh annual Hall of Fame banquet. The event at the Banquets of Minnesota facility honors individuals and teams from various recreational sports.
Reservations are still being accepted for the May 21 tribute to the late Bud Grant, the Vikings’ legendary coach. The free event at U.S. Bank Stadium begins at noon and requires a ticket. http://www.vikings.com/legends/bud-grant