Brakes nearly off for Twins’ top prospect Royce Lewis
The shortstop played instructional games in Ft. Myers last week, nearly eight weeks after knee surgery
In his return to live hitting last week, Minnesota Twins prospect Royce Lewis saw something he had never seen before in years of playing baseball, and “probably won’t again, and I hope I don’t.”
Lewis, coming back from March surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, had hit a grounder and started running full speed to first base.
“The first-base coach gave me the double-hands stop sign — ‘No! Stop! Do not go!’ ” Lewis said Tuesday. “And I was like, ‘Oh, I have to stop. I’ve never seen this.’ ”
The Twins’ top prospect was fielding more or less at full speed, and facing live pitching in a couple of instructional games at the Twins’ training complex in Ft. Myers, Fla., but running the bases full speed was still off limits.
“I went back into the dugout and joked, ‘How many of you guys have ever seen a first-base coach give the stop sign?’ ” Lewis said. “They started laughing. That was pretty funny, but at least I knew the knee was good when I was running out of the box pretty hard.”
Lewis, the top overall pick in the 2017 draft, gave reporters an update on his rehabilitation from his first, and he hopes last, major injury, which likely robbed him of his first major-league games before spring training had reached the midway point. He had surgery on Feb. 26.
Lewis, 22, was gregarious while discussing what has been a long rehab process made worse by the fact that he had been limited to simulated games at the alternative training site in St. Paul when the pandemic erased the 2020 minor-league season.
“My hunger to play is even more than it was before,” he said.
The Twins weren’t counting on Lewis to play shortstop next season before he was injured during a lateral drill in mid-February, but their plans — specifically signing Andrelton Simmons to a one-year deal last spring — provided for that possibility. If Lewis’ progress continues apace, maybe he’ll make his major-league debut in 2022.
It’s almost a cinch he’ll play for the Class AAA Saints next season at CHS Field. Although he has never played beyond Class AA Pensacola, Lewis’ last games were in the 2019 Arizona Fall League, where he helped Salt River win the title, hit .353 with three home runs and 20 RBIs in 22 games and was named the prestigious prospects league’s MVP.
He has been so starved for competition, he has thrown himself into the only sport at his disposal — miniature golf — while rehabbing in Fort Myers, challenging teammates in what he called “some pretty epic golf.”
“The par was 45, so if I was 10-under, that’s a pretty good game,” he said. “But I lost one time. I was 9-under one time and I lost by six. So, it tells you the competition. We had some good competition.”
Now close to playing competitive baseball again — and golf, or bowling — Lewis’ enthusiasm is nearly unbridled. It always has been but after getting through seven months of rehab, and finally playing a little real baseball last week, he’s elated.
“It’s exciting to talk about because it’s very emotional for me,” he said.
Lewis is back at his home in Texas, due back in Fort Myers on Jan. 17 with the goal of being more or less full go for spring training. That is, if Major League Baseball and the Players Association can approve a new collective bargaining agreement in time. The current deal expires on Dec. 1.
“If everything gets held up with that, which I’m really praying it doesn’t — obviously, for selfish reasons — but if everything gets held up with that, I’m not allowed to go to the facility,” he said. “I’ll still be in Texas waiting.”
Lewis said it appears he first injured the knee, slightly, during his first full minor-league season in Cedar Rapids in 2018 and that the ACL finally gave way last February. He didn’t believe he was seriously injured when it happened; now he acknowledges that he’s not fully back to 100 percent. His goal for spring training, he said, “is to just get on the field and play every day without a leash.”
As for when he might join the Twins, he’s philosophical. Whenever it happens, he’ll be certain to enjoy it.
“In my head, that’s what I’m picturing,” he said. “Like, one year, two years down the road, whenever that opportunity comes for me, I just want to take it and run with it. I’m not going to let it go ever again. Because this sucks.
“I don’t want to be in this position. I don’t want to ever, like, get hurt again. Knock on wood. You can only do so much, But I’m going to do everything I can to limit those things.”