Royce Lewis Doesn't Need To Be A Savior

Photo Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, Royce Lewis’ call-up could not have been more chaotic. He got his opportunity to take over short because the Minnesota Twins’ most expensive free agent, Carlos Correa, suffered a hand injury. Lewis only has had 107 Triple-A plate appearances because MLB canceled the minor leagues during the pandemic in 2020, and he tore his ACL before last season.

Lewis also joined the Twins amidst a COVID outbreak. Therefore, Derek Falvey discussed Lewis’ promotion over Zoom, and Jayce Tingler was his manager in lieu of Rocco Baldelli.

But Lewis ultimately joins the Twins at the perfect time. Many of Minnesota’s top prospects are currently with the big-league club. Jose Miranda, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff join him in the lineup. Joe Ryan, Josh Winder, and Jhoan Duran will take the mound in front of him. Furthermore, Byron Buxton has established himself as a superstar and has signed a $100 million extension, and Correa will take over for Lewis when he returns.

“Just looking at my teammates. I’ve played with these guys before,” Lewis said before his debut. “Larnach, Jose Miranda, I literally just played with these guys.”

Tingler says that Lewis’s familiarity with his teammates should help him adapt to the big leagues more effectively.

“I do think there’s a comfort level from having some teammates that they’ve played with in the past,” said Tingler, who worked in player development before managing the San Diego Padres the past two seasons. “I think there’s a comfort level of having some experienced players that have been there, done that, and will help them along the way as well.”

The Twins took Lewis 1st overall in 2017, Falvey and Thad Levine’s first draft. But he’s not the first player from that draft to reach the majors. Brent Rooker (35th overall) debuted in 2020, and Bailey Ober (12th round) made 20 starts last year.

“It’s a cool moment,” Falvey said of Lewis’ major league debut. “The first one last night when we knew this was tracking, I called Sean Johnson, our scouting director. It was actually before we even let Royce know. I wanted to tell Sean. For Sean, [his] first pick as a scouting director in that role.

“That was a big year for us on a lot of levels.”

Minnesota drafted Lewis out of high school, and Rooker and Ober played in college, so his timetable was different. The bigger point is that Lewis joins the Twins as part of a wave of prospects. He’s not the lone savior who’s expected to change Minnesota’s fortunes.

“It’s amazing, and it’s a credit to the organization on, really, all fronts. Certainly, on the scouting side, the player development side,” said Tingler.

“So I can really only reflect back to when I was a player in the early 2000s, the Twins were kind of the gold standard of fundamental baseball. The way they play baseball, the way they play defense, certainly the way they ran the bases.”

In 2002, Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, and A.J. Pierzynski led the Twins to a 94-win season a year after MLB considered them for contraction. The 2002 team beat the Moneyball A’s in the playoffs before losing to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Angels. That was Minnesota’s most recent playoff series win.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau headlined the second wave. In 2006, Morneau was named MVP, Johan Santana won the Cy Young, and the Twins won 96 games. But the Oakland A’s swept them in three games, extending a winless playoff streak that dates back to 2004.

So why should we believe that Falvey and Levine’s Twins will fare any better? Because the current prospect waves mirror the 2000s, except in reverse. Buxton and Miguel Sanó surfaced first, then Falvey and Levine’s group joined them later. It would be like if Mauer and Morneau arrived first, then Hunter, Jones, and Mientkiewicz joined them later.

Sports Illustrated dubbed Buxton and Sanó the “Glimmer Twins” in 2013. They joined a team that had fallen apart after christening Target Field with a 94-win season in 2010. Conversely, Lewis joins a team that went 73-89 last year but won 101 games two years ago and had a 36-24 record in the pandemic year. More importantly, the Twins don’t need Lewis to save them. They just need this group of prospects to help them become a contender.

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