Royce Lewis could have held it against the Minnesota Twins that they put him out in center field. He could be bitter that they sent him back to Triple-A after a successful first stint in the majors. Lewis could have pushed back on Minnesota’s plan to have him play multiple positions – including left field, center, and third – to accommodate Carlos Correa, who can opt out of his contract next year.
Lewis is the future at shortstop, after all. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine’s first selection, the first-overall pick in 2017. Well, he was the future at short until slamming into the wall on May 29, his first game in center. Now, he joins a long list of Twins prospects who suffered serious injuries early in their careers. Furthermore, Lewis was coming off a freak injury in 2021 and didn’t play in 2020.
For those keeping score at home, Lewis missed 2020 because MLB canceled the minor league season during the quarantine. Then Lewis missed 2021 when he slipped on ice outside his Dallas home and tore his ACL. Now, Lewis is going under the knife to fix his re-injured ACL and will miss another year of playing time. Not only that, but he would not have sustained that injury if he was playing his natural position.
If he’s bitter about all of this, he’s not making that known.
“I think it helps that I’m literally living my best life and dream,” he said after announcing that he’d have surgery. “It’s just a pause, another setback, that honestly will push me forward and propel me to greater heights.”
Players will rarely berate the team they play for unless they are pushing to leave the organization. But Lewis has backed up his words with actions at every stop. He’s embraced playing new positions. He’s also relentlessly positive, and it infects everyone around him. Lewis has to be everything Falvey and Levine hoped they’d get with the No. 1 pick. He can hit, play short, and is a natural leader.
“I figured I was here to fill in for Carlos at the time,” Lewis said when the Twins recalled him in late May, hours before he got injured in center field.
“I was honestly excited I got the opportunity. I took advantage as much as I possibly could, whether it be let me eat more steak and lobster or let me go out and have fun and play and try to do my best obviously. Because if I do good, great, but if not, I’m going back down.”
He’s not wrong. The Twins would not have sent Lewis down again if he continued to rake and played capably around the diamond. But emphasizing that he got to eat steak and lobster? I mean, c’mon. I get it; it’s probably better than picking up McDonald’s on the bus ride from St. Paul to the next Triple-A town. Still, he could have expressed some discontent with being asked to change positions when he’s a former first-overall pick and played capably at short.
Bringing out the best in Lewis seemed pretty straightforward in 2017. They’d develop him in the minor leagues. If he stuck at short, they’d call him up and let him take over the position in the majors. Now, the future is a little less clear.
“I’ve played a lot of other places,” he said. “It helped me as a player, going forward. I’ve always played other positions growing up. Now I’ve shown that I’ve done it at a professional level. It was done at the Fall League (he played center field there in 2019). It was fun for me to move around, bounce around.”
Lewis’ tone didn’t change after the injury. But he may get upset if he doesn’t feel he’s still Minnesota’s future at short. The Twins will have to decide on Correa soon, and Lewis’ injury complicates that. Correa can opt out of his contract next year, and he likely will in order to cash in on a massive long-term contract this winter.
With Lewis out for another year, they could choose to invest in Correa and use Lewis as an overqualified utility player. However, that means they are risking another injury in the outfield, and Lewis has proven he’s capable of playing short. Furthermore, Lewis is 23, and Correa is 27.
Correa will probably finish his next contract at third, but it’s hard to see Minnesota keeping Lewis at third or in the outfield for four or five years, then moving him to short if Correa has to move down the defensive spectrum. Doing so would shorten the amount of time Lewis can play his best position while spending big on a player who could end up as a third baseman by the end of his contract.
And while the Twins weren’t wrong to temporarily move Lewis around while Correa is here, they need to ensure he stays healthy if they see Lewis as a core player. He didn’t have to be a savior when he got to the big leagues, as Byron Buxton did. But the Twins can’t dismiss Lewis’ elite athletic abilities and leadership potential. He’s still a star and could be Minnesota’s shortstop for nearly a decade if they treat him right.
They’ve seen enough to know that they should build their future plans around him. Unfortunately, Lewis’ second ACL injury complicates that in a way nobody could have seen coming.