Black MiLB Players You Need To Know About #16: Royce Lewis
Background + Path to Professional Baseball
Royce Lewis is a twenty-two-year-old shortstop in the Minnesota Twins organization from Orange County, California. He attended JSerra High School, where he played second base, third base, shortstop, and centerfield during a career where he won the LA Times Player of the Year Award for high school baseball players in California and the Gatorade Player of the Year Award for California. Lewis played on a variety of top travel ball teams and was heavily scouted throughout his high school career. He played on the US National 15U & 18U Baseball Teams against the world’s best in his age group as well.
Teams were in love with the shortstop’s ability to hit for contact and power, his top-tier athleticism, and the defensive versatility he showed throughout his high school career. The leadership and makeup traits he showed earned him Derek Jeter comparisons. He had a commitment and scholarship to UC Irvine’s baseball program. He was ranked as a top-five high school player in his class, viewed as a guaranteed top ten pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and was even considered by some to go first overall.
The Minnesota Twins selected him with the first overall pick of the 2017 MLB Draft, snagging him away from his UC Irvine commitment with a 6.7 million dollar signing bonus. His career started with 36 games in the Gulf Coast League during the 2017 MiLB season, putting up a .803 OPS with 15 stolen bases, 19 walks, and 17 strikeouts. He was promoted to the Minnesota Low-A affiliate, where he hit .296/.363/.394 in 18 games where he was 3.3 years younger than the average player. Lewis had a 136 wRC+ in the GCL and a 117 wRC+ with the Minnesota Low-A affiliate. During the 2018 MiLB season, Lewis played 121 games between the Low-A and High-A affiliates of the team that drafted him, going .292/.352/.451 in 535 PAs. He hit 29 doubles, 14 home runs, and stole 28 bases.
In 2019, the top prospect played 127 games between the High-A and Double-A levels of the Minnesota farm system, struggling mightily while making a plethora of adjustments. His approach went from tolerable to problematic, which increased the time it took to see if adjustments he was making were viable or not. Both of the wRC+’s he put up in 2019 were below 100 for the levels he was at.
While getting ready for the 2021 MiLB season at the Twins Spring Training facility in Florida, Lewis tore his ACL. A huge setback as he put in good work at the Twins alternate site, many anticipate his return in 2022.
Royce Lewis is a shortstop that is 6'2'’ and weighs 200 pounds. He bats and throws right-handed. He is an elite athlete, and it shows on the base paths and in the batter’s box. His speed and athleticism are two of his calling cards, and the way that it shows when he’s on the field is another calling card. From a pure athleticism standpoint, Royce Lewis answers the question “What if Mookie Betts was taller than six feet and weighed two hundred pounds?”
He stands with his back foot in the back of the box and his front foot closer to the outside edge, forming an open stance. He holds his hands near his ear, using a rocking motion as he waits for his pitch. Lewis begins with an extremely high leg kick that has become a signature visual, unleashing a loose and whippy right-handed swing as he rotates and uses his lower body to finish. He rotates his midsection and uses his lower half consistently. Throughout his career, he has been prone to getting out of whack mechanically and going on cold stretches as a result.
He has a diagonal swing pattern through the zone but is able to control the bat well. An erratic and swing heavy approach a la Javy Baez with far better contact skills is the obstacle in the way for this very talented hitter. His tolerable strikeout rates soften the blow of his haphazard approach and mediocre walk rates, as he has sat between 6–7% for his career so far. He makes hard contact over 40% of the time, averaging a 90 miles per hour exit velocity when he puts the ball in play and maxing out at 108. That is top-tier raw power, especially for an infielder. He has an approach oriented around pulling the ball and lifting it in the air, which works well with how hard he hits the ball as the rate at which he gets extra-base hits is well above average.
He is an elite baserunner and is one of the fastest players in professional baseball. While the ACL tear may affect his game for some time, I expect a full recovery based on the advancement in medical technology and success in repairing ACLs without any loss of explosiveness or movement. He has great decision-making skills to go with his top-shelf speed.
Defensively, Lewis is rated as a below-average to average shortstop. Many believe that he should've been moved to centerfield when he was drafted because they were skeptical about his defense at the six back then. He has the range, throwing arm, and footwork to stick but due to the quality of his hands he struggles to consistently make plays. Minnesota does not seem to mind, as they have not moved him off of shortstop full time although he has taken fly balls in centerfield. Either way, he will stick to an up-the-middle position full time or go back to being the super-utility player that he was as an underclassman in high school.
Royce Lewis has a ceiling that is higher than the Empire State Building through multiple pathways. Those paths include being a full-time infielder, full-time outfielder, or some combination of the two. If he can harness his 70-grade speed to be a solid defender to go with his throwing arm, that would be a massive asset for Minnesota as they value versatility. The fact that Lewis projects to stay up the middle is the most important factor, as the premium positional value enhances the versatility and the value that lies in his bat.
While his defensive profile is volatile, his hitting profile is even more volatile. Contact skills, hundredth percentile bat speed, and a swing naturally geared for hitting fly balls to the pull side for extra-base hits. A caveat is a putrid approach and cold spells and inconsistency are the results. A lack of a consistent approach exaggerates the issues Lewis has keeping his mechanics consistent.
The wide range of possibilities Royce Lewis’s career has is a testament to who he is as a player. He does a lot of things very well, and even with his fatal flaws, he may find a way to be a very valuable player. It may happen in a very unique way or a very basic way.