Royce Lewis homered and doubled in last night’s loss to the A’s, boosting his slash line through his first 11 big league games to .308/.325/.564 — but the Twins nevertheless optioned him to Triple-A St. Paul last night in order to pave the way for Carlos Correa’s activation from the 10-day injured list, manager Rocco Baldelli announced after the game (link via Dan Hayes of The Athletic). Baldelli naturally acknowledged that Lewis had made the decision “difficult” with his play and suggested that the Twins will use this run in Triple-A to “move [Lewis] around the field” and “get him a little bit of exposure at some different spots.”
Lewis’ glovework at shortstop has long been a question among scouts, with some viewing a move to the outfield as an eventual necessity. The 22-year-old made a pair of errors in his 99 innings at shortstop but also made several highlight-reel plays in his tiny sample of work. The Twins very likely still view him as a shortstop in the long run, but Correa is arguably the game’s best defender at the position, so Lewis will use a potentially brief run through Triple-A to get his feet wet at other positions while also further honing his skills at short.
Lewis does have some limited experience at other positions but has played exclusively at shortstop in 2022 — his first season of game action since way back in 2019. The 2020 season was lost for all minor leaguers, and Lewis missed the 2021 campaign due to a torn ACL. He logged a dozen games at third base, five in center field and four at second base during the 2019 Arizona Fall League, but he’s never played a position other than shortstop outside that AFL run. That Lewis was able to hit the ground running both in Triple-A and in the Majors after what amounts to more than two years away from game activity is a testament to the upside and talent that prompted Minnesota to select him with the No. 1 overall pick back in 2017.
It’s still undoubtedly a deflating move for Lewis and for Twins fans, even if the move is short-term in nature. Correa, however, will return to the lineup and give the club a premier defensive player and overall MVP-caliber talent whose bat had begun to heat up just prior to the hit-by-pitch that ultimately landed him on the 10-day IL. The 27-year-old is hitting .255/.320/.372 overall but raked at a .412/.444/.588 pace in the nine games preceding his injury.
As for where Lewis will slot in when he does return, the Twins will have multiple options. First base has been the biggest hole in their lineup, with both Miguel Sano and prospect Jose Miranda floundering at the plate. Utilityman Luis Arraez has begun to slot in at first base with more regularity, however, and the Twins surely still have hope that outfielder/first baseman Alex Kirilloff — like Lewis, a longtime top prospect both in the system and in the league as a whole — will right the ship in Triple-A and be able to play a larger role there.
Across the diamond, third base could be a more viable fit. Gio Urshela has made some strong defensive plays but ranks about average with the glove according to most public metrics. He’s also hitting just .226/.280/.330 in 118 trips to the plate — production (or lack thereof) that would eventually jeopardize his place in the lineup even if he were producing outstanding numbers on the defensive side of the coin. Minnesota left fielders, meanwhile, are hitting .236/.294/.341 on the season, due in large part to Kirilloff’s struggles prior to his wrist injury and to Nick Gordon’s tepid .250/.292/.309 output (most of which has come while playing left field).
Being uncertain where they’ll ultimately slot Lewis back into the mix is the quintessential “good problem to have” for a team. It’ll be worth keeping a keen eye on just where Lewis is lining up across the river in St. Paul, as that could foreshadow some other decisions pertaining to the big league roster. Lewis will technically need to remain with the Saints for at least 10 days now that he’s been optioned, although the Twins can easily get around that minimum by recalling Lewis as the corresponding move for an injury if they see fit.