The Minnesota Twins have been in need of some help over the past week. They are inconsistent at the plate, leaky in the bullpen and have shown a tendency to turn games they should win comfortably into excruciating losses.
But the biggest reason for concern may be the overall vibe of the team. Some nights, the Twins look lackadaisical at the plate, grinding through a marathon schedule that still has four months to go. On other nights, they’re breaking Statcast and declaring themselves as one of the nastiest lineups in the league.
The Twins need to find a way to break out their alter ego on a more consistent basis. The key may be Royce Lewis‘ return.
Lewis is raking during his most recent rehab assignment, hitting .308/.357/.692 with three homers and seven RBI in seven games between Double-A Wichita and Triple-A St. Paul. His performance has some flashing back to last May and wondering just how the 24-year-old can help the Twins avoid another mid-season swoon.
The most obvious answer is Lewis’s ability to add another bat to the lineup. Dating back to the start of the 2022 season, Lewis is hitting .309/.382/.513 with 10 homers and 26 RBI in 53 games. While most of that production has come in the minors, it also includes last year’s 12-game stint with the Twins where he went 12-for-41 (.300) with two homers and drove in five runs.
Although it’s an extremely small sample size, it was impressive enough that the Twins tried to shoehorn him into the lineup. An experiment to use Lewis as a “super sub” went wrong after he tore his ACL for the second time in a 15-month span while playing center field, but it shows just how high they are on Lewis’s bat.
There’s also the element of speed that Lewis brings to the basepaths. Stolen bases are up after MLB implemented new rules, but the Twins rank 29th with 17 stolen bases – just ahead of the Colorado Rockies, who have swiped 16 bases this season.
Before last May’s injury, Lewis stole 12 bases on 14 attempts in 41 games with the Saints. During his rehab assignment, Lewis continued putting pressure on pitchers, swiping three bags in four attempts.
It’s encouraging that Lewis hasn’t missed a beat at the plate or on the basepaths. However, there’s still the issue of where he’s going to play. The Twins have shelved the idea of playing him in the outfield, but there might be a spot for him at third base.
Earlier in the year, Jose Miranda, 24, struggled in the field and at the plate in his first full season as a starter. Kyle Farmer took over when they sent Miranda down earlier this month, but his .370 average on balls in play doesn’t seem sustainable throughout the season.
Brooks Lee is currently surging through the minor leagues, but he’s likely another year away from becoming an everyday player in the majors. For now, Lewis could slot in as a third baseman, and he has the athleticism and arm strength to look good while doing it.
But for all the things that Lewis can bring to the Twins on the field, he might provide more value off of it.
That’s because the Twins don’t seem to know who they are. There are players like Byron Buxton, who has the sounds of a semi-truck blaring through Target Field with each extra-base hit. But then there’s Alex Kirilloff, who has a personality that makes Joe Mauer look like Fernando Tatis. They have a closer who can pump 100 mph fastballs with reggaeton turned up to 11, but an ace that prefers to jam to the Grateful Dead.
This juxtaposition of personalities exists on every major league roster. Still, most teams lean in one direction or the other. That’s why Lewis could be the player that tips the scales.
The 24-year-old has been incredible on the field. However, he’s been limited to 53 games dating back to the end of the 2019 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and injuries. Upon his most recent return, Lewis sounds like a player who is acknowledging his opportunity and ready to make an impact once he makes his way back to the majors.
“It feels like if you had a dream and it was taken away from you, and you got it back,” Lewis told MiLB.com’s Brendan Samson after smashing two homers on May 19. “That’s just how I’m treating it. I love this game so much, and it means so much for me to be out there having fun, making jokes and just enjoying myself.”
This has not been lost on Baldelli, who noted Lewis’s energy on the field when asked about the impending decision with Lewis on Thursday.
“He does bring a lot of very, very positive energy and baseball qualities to a team,” Baldelli said before Thursday’s win over the San Francisco Giants. “[Lewis is] an exciting young player because he can do a lot of different things. He’s a good athlete, impacts the baseball on the offensive end and he’s a good defender. He’s got a good attitude. I think he keeps everyone going. He definitely did that last year, and I think a lot of guys were excited about having him on the team.”
Baldelli went on to mention that the Twins don’t have to make a decision on Lewis until he’s eligible to return on May 29. But the fact the Twins still speak highly of their former top prospects suggests he can make a big impact that can help forge their identity.