The Twins announced Wednesday morning that shortstop Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 draft and one of their top two prospects, has been diagnosed with a tear in his right knee’s anterior cruciate ligament and will require surgery. The procedure comes with an expected recovery time of at least nine months, so it’s likely to wipe out his entire season. Lewis is slated to undergo surgery on Friday.
As Twins president of baseball ops Derek Falvey explained to reporters (Twitter link via Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com), Lewis had been dealing with some soreness in his knee during offseason workouts. That may not have accounted for the tear, but he also recently slipped on some ice during the blizzards in Texas, where he lives during the offseason, which worsened the discomfort. It’s not known precisely when the tear occurred, but the end result is the same.
It’s a brutal blow for both the Twins and Lewis, who had a chance to break through to the Major Leagues in 2021. While his 2019 season between Class-A Advanced and Double-A didn’t go particularly well — combined .236/.290/.371 slash — Lewis rebounded from that performance with a huge showing in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. Through 22 games there, Lewis raked at a .353/.411/.565 clip, connecting on three homers and nine doubles while going 5-for-6 in stolen base attempts. That production earned him AFL MVP honors.
While some prospect rankings have seen outfielder Alex Kirilloff surpass Lewis as the Twins’ top prospect, that’s more a testament to Kirilloff’s progress than to a decline in Lewis’ stock. Lewis has been a consensus Top 30 prospect in all of MLB since the time he was drafted, landing at No. 17 on MLB.com’s 2021 rankings and No. 26 over at Baseball America.
The setback for Lewis is particularly poorly timed given the lack of a minor league season in 2020. While he spent the summer working out at the Twins’ alternate training site in St. Paul, the 2021 campaign would’ve given Lewis a chance to participate in a much more competitive setting and further his development as he continues on toward his Major League debut. He’ll now go more than two years between that huge showing in the 2019 AFL and his next at-bat in an actual game setting.
As a high school draftee, Lewis won’t even turn 22 until June, so youth is still on his side as he works to rebound from a devastating injury. Looking down the line, his ability to regain mobility in that knee will be particularly important, as there’s already been some debate about his eventual position. Lewis was drafted as a shortstop and has spent the bulk of his career there, though some in the industry feel he’d be better-equipped to play center field. He’s also spent a bit of time at third base.
There’s no guarantee that Lewis would’ve made it to the big leagues in 2021, although with some Double-A and/or Triple-A time under his belt, he’d at least have been a consideration in the event of an injury in the infield. He’s still a major part of the organization’s future, but Lewis will now have to navigate a substantial roadblock in his path to a Target Field debut.