Royce Lewis has been quietly impressive during his first two weeks in a Minnesota Twins uniform.
A couple of weeks ago, the Twins were in a bind at shortstop. Carlos Correa was going to the 10-day injured list with a bruised finger. Outside of Correa, there weren’t any reliable options on the 25-man roster who could fill the void between second and third for at least two weeks.
Enter Royce Lewis. That the top pick of the 2017 draft earned his big league debut came as a bit of a surprise. Lewis was dominating Triple-A with a .310/.430/.563 slash line and three home runs in 24 games. However, he was playing in his first game action since 2019 after COVID, and an ACL injury kept him away from the field for two years.
Since making his big league debut on May 6, Lewis has slashed .281/.281/.438 with 1 home run in nine games (32 at-bats). The results have been modest but encouraging.
However, the Twins have opted to send Lewis down now that Correa is healthy.
Lewis wouldn’t have been able to play many games at shortstop with Correa back. The Twins are paying Correa $35 million. There’s no way the Twins move an All-Star, World Series champion, and Platinum Glove winner to make way for a rookie with only two weeks of experience. Correa’s glove alone is too valuable to the team. Therefore, it was wise to send Lewis back to Triple-A, where he can continue to develop into a franchise shortstop and gain confidence.
Still, there was a way to keep Lewis in the majors. He has other positional experience throughout his minor league career, mainly from third base and the outfield. The corner outfield looks set with Max Kepler, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and even Gilberto Celestino mixing in the corner outfield spots.
But it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to have another backup option behind Buxton in center field. It would complement Minnesota’s plan to slowly ramp Buxton up as he recovers from injury. However, Lewis hasn’t played anything other than shortstop since 2019, so the Twins would have to decide if the potential rust is worth it with so many other established outfield options.
Lewis could also play third base. Gio Urshela has been a replacement-level player this year, with a 0.0 WAR and a .235/.289/.343 in 31 games this season. His production at the plate has been league-average, but he has made some nice plays in the field. Still, he owns a -1 outs above average rating. The two have roughly the same level of production, but Lewis has a higher ceiling, which should give him an edge. It’s much more justifiable to split time between these two than Lewis and Correa.
However, Lewis’ highest level of experience at third base was in the Arizona Fall League in 2019. He’d need an adjustment if the Twins want him to play there every day. Lewis also has mainly played at shortstop. It would take a bit more time to adjust to an infield position compared to the outfield, even if he’s shown the ability to play well on the fly this season.
Lewis has been too productive of a player just to send back over the Mississippi River to St. Paul. It’s been uplifting for the team and its fans to see him in a Twins uniform. Lewis’ future role isn’t certain. But he’s started at the bottom of the order and has been able to take deep counts and reach base. Against the Oakland A’s on Monday, he scored two of Minnesota’s three runs from 8-hole while setting up RBI opportunities for Buxton and Jorge Polanco.
As much as more consistent playing time in St. Paul would be beneficial, so would experience at Target Field. The Twins are winning, so there is no pressure on him to be “the guy,” especially with Buxton in the lineup. He can spend every day with a seasoned pro in Correa, who has already shown a willingness to mentor Lewis. There is the possibility, unlikely as it is, that Correa opts in for another season in Minnesota. If so, Lewis will need to slide somewhere, and the Twins should be getting him prepared for that possibility as well.
Lewis has taken a difficult challenge and has found a meaningful amount of success in his limited big league action. That’s not an easy task.
Buxton was in a similar situation when he debuted in 2015. Buxton’s call-up also came with expectations and the hope of immediate success that he just wasn’t quite ready for. Buxton ended his first season in the majors with a .209/.250/.326 slash line and only two home runs. He also had nearly a 32 percent strikeout rate in 46 games. The Twins rushed Buxton a bit – he made his MLB debut at age 21. But almost all prospects experience adversity, no matter how much talent they have.
Jose Miranda is another example. The 2016 second-round pick is slashing .114/.152/.227 with only one home run in 12 games. That isn’t to discredit Miranda, but to say that someone coming in and looking as locked in as Lewis isn’t automatic.
Getting to the major leagues after limited minor league experience can be a bit of a trial by fire, especially for a prospect with as many expectations as Lewis has. He hasn’t played in a competitive baseball game for nearly three years and still somehow mashed at Triple-A. Now he looks like he could stay up with the big league club for the near and possibly distant future. Minnesota’s long-term answer at third base is still up in the air, depending on how well Lewis and Miranda develop at the big league level. It’s wide open right now for Lewis, who can slide into that short-term role and take it from the veteran Urshela.
Lewis may still experience some growing pains. Still, it’s hard to deny the impact he’s had on the team with his initial production. At the very least, it should earn him some more time to show the Twins whether or not he can continue this early success.