The Minnesota Twins turned some heads, and apparently ruffled some feathers online, when they selected prep shortstop-outfielder Royce Lewis from JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
The ruffling of feathers came when the Twins drafted Lewis, spurning the shot to select Hunter Greene (who went second to the Cincinnati Reds), Brendan McKay (fourth, Tampa Bay Rays) or Kyle Wright (fifth, Atlanta Braves), all of whom had been connected to the team in some form or fashion during the draft process. A large portion of the angst stemmed from either the Twins not drafting the player who throws 100 mph and can also play short, who donned the cover of Sports Illustrated recently. More of the angst stemmed from the Twins not drafting a pitcher, since the primary need on the big-league roster is pitching.
First of all, drafting for need in MLB is not a thing; it’s totally bunk logic. How often do players come straight to the big leagues, anyway? If the Twins were to have drafted for need, they’d have Mike Zunino (career .636 OPS) and/or Mark Appel (5.14 career minor-league ERA, no MLB experience at age 25) in their system right now.
The other issue fans had was the idea that Lewis signing for under slot value was some sort of ploy by Twins ownership to save money on the draft. Au contraire, actually. By moving some money around, the Twins were — and possibly still are — able to use the money at their disposal to select talents available later in the draft that are deemed “unsignable” by other clubs due to their demands versus the slot money for that part of the draft.
Since the Twins finished with the worst record in baseball last year, they have the largest pool of bonus money available at $14.1568 million — roughly a half-million more than the Reds, who picked second. Now that’s a narrower gap than was seen by the Phillies last year, as the gap from pick No. 1 and No. 2 was reeled in during the last Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Since the CBA prior to this one was ratified five years ago, there hasn’t been a No. 1 pick to receive the full slot value — a fact lost on virtually everyone complaining about this. No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson didn’t receive slot value in 2015, and in fact, it’s a No. 2 pick — Kris Bryant in 2013 — who received the highest bonus of the draft pool era.
In essence, by not paying full slot value to Lewis — this is not certain since no agreement is finalized, but widely assumed to be the case — the Twins have a little more wiggle room to sign players in rounds two through 10. This dynamic was never more evident than when the Astros selected Carlos Correa in 2012 — one pick ahead of Byron Buxton — and used the savings to load up on Lance McCullers Jr., who is currently going through some injury stuff but when healthy, has been incredible. For instance, he was the AL Pitcher of the Month in May.
McCullers had fairly high demands when he fell into the compensatory selections of the 2012 draft. He had a fairly strong case to go early after a strong stint with Team USA’s U18 team, and had a verbal commitment to play at Florida, one of the finest baseball schools in the country. Since the Astros didn’t have to pay the full rate on Correa, they were able to meet McCullers’ demands, thus turning their draft into a pretty tidy sum of two high-end players.
Only time will tell if the Twins were able to do the same thing — again, with the compression of the bonuses, it’s less likely — but this isn’t like the team took some low-ceiling prospect to save some cash. Lewis was the best-rated position player on virtually all the boards, and has some very impressive tools across the board.
Here’s what people are saying about Lewis (plus some video):
“Lewis’ unique combination of explosive tools, top-of-the-scale makeup and up-the-middle defensive profile make him arguably the best position player prospect in this class. “In my opinion Royce Lewis is the best player in the country,” JSerra head coach Brett Kay said in April.” – Baseball America
For as much as people got upset about the Twins taking Lewis where they did, Lewis was the No. 3 pick on Baseball America’s first two mocks, the fourth pick on their next two, the fifth pick in the fifth mock, the seventh pick in their sixth mock and the No. 1 pick in their final mock. In other words, there was significant belief that he was going very high in the draft.
John Manuel of Baseball America writes not only about Lewis, but that Brendan McKay confirmed to him that he and the Twins had negotiated, but it was not a number that would work for him. “They had offered a number that we felt we could get a better offer from another team or what not,” he said. “It ultimately came down to, another team was able to give a better offer, so we went with that.”
Above is a video of what ESPN’s Keith Law had to say about Lewis going No. 1 overall. “It was a little bit of a surprise,” Law said. “There were probably five names the Twins were linked to all spring, and he would have been fourth or fifth on that list.” Law isn’t terribly convinced Lewis will stay in the infield — or even the dirt, he adds — but he likes the speed and says that he thinks Lewis has a good swing with the ability to grow into some power. “He kind of reminds me of Justin Upton,” Law says.
Here Lewis joins ESPN to break down being selected No. 1 overall:
John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com calls Lewis “Ultra-toolsy and widely regarded as the best overall high school hitter in the class.” In his full report, he says that Lewis has “no weak tools” and that all his athletic attributes are at least average.
Here’s some good YouTube footage of Lewis: