You guys are gonna love him when you have a chance to meet him.
— Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey on No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis
Leadership is just one part of the equation, Minnesota Twins vice president of personnel Mike Radcliff insists, but it’s part of the reason that the Minnesota Twins surprised the baseball world by choosing Royce Lewis with the first overall selection in this year’s MLB Draft. “We see this guy as an impact player on both sides of the ball,” said Radcliff. “He also has a unique ability to impact the clubhouse and the community. This guy gets it. He’s got that ‘it’ factor that a No. 1 pick needs to survive and move forward and have success at the end of the journey. He checked all the boxes for us.”
Radcliff has been at this a while. He was hired as an area scout in 1987 and was the team’s scouting director from 1993 to 2007. During that time the team drafted Torii Hunter (1993), A.J. Pierzynski (1994), Michael Cuddyer (1997), Justin Morneau (1999), Joe Mauer (2001) and Glen Perkins (2004), all future all-stars, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Professional Scouts Hall of Fame.
High school right-handed pitcher and shortstop Hunter Greene, who was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated recently, and Louisville lefty and first baseman Brendan McKay were expected to go first overall. Many analysts, including ESPN’s Keith Law, had the Twins taking Vanderbilt righty pitcher Kyle Wright. But it was Lewis who the Twins chose first overall.
“Royce was a guy we targeted all spring”
“We were genuinely coming down to what we’re doing today in the room and having many conversations about these players as we could,” said Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey. “It came down really to the last few minutes there, and ultimately we made the selection. But Royce was a guy we targeted all spring, and we knew that he was somebody that was going to be in consideration going back as far as last summer.”
The pick was panned by both fans and the national media. The vox populi was heard on Twitter calling the Twins cheap for passing on Greene and McKay — the latter who passed on an offer from Minnesota. Law expressed his dislike on ESPN.com, writing: “Royce Lewis was a slight surprise as the first overall pick, especially because, like the Upton brothers were in their own draft years, he’s a shortstop who is almost universally assumed to be moving off the position, with most people — myself included — assuming he’s headed for center field.”
Melvin Upton Jr. was the No. 2 overall pick in 2002. Justin was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. Both brothers have spent the majority of their careers in the outfield.
Minnesota is expected to offer Lewis less than the $7.77 million offered for the No. 1 overall slot, but they are allowed to use, and are likely to spend, that money on other picks in the draft. Lewis is a Scott Boras client, meaning the man negotiating his contract is notorious for demanding top dollar for his players, which include or included Jacoby Ellsbury, Prince Fielder, Matt Holliday, Alex Rodriguez, Max Scherzer and others. So the frugality argument is rather frivolous.
The larger concern is that the Twins drafted another outfielder, when pitching is an area of need. While teams don’t draft for need, given that all prospects — especially 18 year olds out of high school — typically take around three to five years, at minimum, to develop, it is not like the NFL or MLB draft where a player drafted first overall is expected to immediately make an impact on the current roster. “You don’t want tie all your decisions to what’s going on with your Major League team at that time because three, four five years down the line, your needs could look totally different,” said Falvey before the draft.
Lewis played all over the field as a high schooler, which may indicate that he won’t pan out as a shortstop by the time he reaches the majors. But the Twins said that his willingness to play multiple positions is a leadership quality. “You talk about how much of a team guy he is,” said Falvey, “he went and played center field, he played third base and eventually moved over to shortstop, because there were other guys on the team that could play those positions, and he’s such a good athlete that he could play just about everywhere on the field.”
“I love playing shortstop. I’d love to play there in the future,” Lewis said on a conference call after he was drafted. “I was just glad to have the opportunity. Whatever anyone would like, I’m totally appreciative of again getting the opportunity. I love shortstop.”
By not paying Lewis the max, which is common practice among major league clubs, they have more money to spend on the rest of the draft. In general, good pitching comes as a result of numbers and strong player development above all else. The Twins took Canadian righty Landon Leach with the No. 37 overall pick and five pitchers with their next nine selections.
If Wright or McKay end up becoming an impact pitcher in a major league rotation in two years, the Twins will be criticized for taking the wrong guy. The Cincinnati Reds chose Greene second overall and will develop him as a pitcher, so if he turns out to be an ace, the Twins will be criticized for taking the wrong guy. But the honest truth is that if Lewis pans out, all that doesn’t matter. Many successful pitchers come from outside a team’s system. Jake Arrieta and Corey Kluber were traded for. Phil Hughes set a major league record for strikeout-to-walk ratio the year after he was picked up on a three-year, $24 million deal.
Mark Prior, the No. 2 overall pick in 2001, was in the majors in 2002 and out of baseball by 2006. Joe Mauer, selected No. 1 overall that year, has generated more wins above replacement than any No. 1 pick in major league history other than Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Twins made the right pick that year, despite being derided for being cheap at the time.
It’s a similar narrative now. Maybe Lewis will pan out, maybe he will not. Either way, the Twins are convinced if he does, he’s going to make an impact on everyone he meets. “This guy has a chance to change a franchise with his personality and charisma,” Twins scouting director Sean Johnson said. “He’s a magnet. People want to be around him.”