Minnesota Twins: What Royce Lewis’ injury means for the Twins

The Minnesota Twins have always been a team that relies on a strong farm system for success. When you look back at the long list of Twins greats, Kirby Puckett, Joe Mauer, Kent Hrbek, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, Torii Hunter, and more all were drafted or signed by the Twins when they entered professional baseball.

In more recent years, that trend has continued. The Twins’ core of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, and Luis Arraez are all home grown talent. The next group is coming up has been built the same way, with Alex Kirilloff, Jordan Balazovic, Trevor Larnach, and Royce Lewis all standing out as the future for the franchise.

Lewis was rated the highest out of that group, and seen as the future of the shortstop position for the team. Unfortunately for the Twins, he now looks to be out for what could be the next year with an ACL tear, sustained at some point during the offseason.

With Royce Lewis likely to miss most of this year, where does this leave the Minnesota Twins?

Lewis had been dealing with some discomfort in his knee over the offseason, but it looks like the tear may have come from falling on some ice during the Texas blizzard last week. While no one is positive exactly when it happened, the tear is confirmed and he will undergo surgery today.

While this is devastating personal news for Royce Lewis, it really hurts the Twins’ plans for the shortstop position. The Twins planned to start Andrelton Simmons at shortstop this year on a one year deal while Royce Lewis spent the year in Double-AA and possibly finished at Triple-AAA, honing his skills for a promotion in 2022.

A Lewis-Polanco combo up the middle would have been ideal, with Lewis switching out to center every once in a while to spell Buxton, while Polanco and Arraez played in the middle of the infield. Now, this plan is seriously derailed.

While ACL tears are no longer the career killer that they used to be, especially in a sport like baseball, they may sap a little bit of Lewis’ elite athleticism, though that’s not the biggest concern right now.

The big concern is that Lewis is missing his age-22 season, as he turns 22 in June. That’s a big year for prospects to make the final jump to prove they’re major league-ready. That’s on top of being robbed of his 2020 season due to COVID-19.

Lewis has had other injuries as well, so in addition to not playing in a professional game since 2019, Lewis will have played just 302 games over a five year span (2017-2021). That’s really not great for development.

This means that Lewis’ Minnesota Twins debut will be delayed until 2022 at the earliest, though it probably won’t late in 2022 or early 2023, when Lewis is 23. While debuting as a 23 year old isn’t bad (the average age for an MLB debut is 24.4 years old), it’s definitely not where other top prospects will be debuting.

Now for the big question: what does this mean for the Minnesota Twins? The Twins are now losing their No. 1 prospect and their plan for next year and the game’s premier position. What comes next?

Well, the team is lucky enough to have one of the deepest rosters in the league. After this season, even if they elect to have Andrelton Simmons walk, Jorge Polanco can keep the seat warm at short with Luis Arraez playing second. Travis Blankenhorn and Nick Gordon are ready to fill depth roles as well. If they don’t sign anyone else, things will be okay.

There’s also the possibility of a free agent signing. Assuming that all of the current free agents don’t re-sign with their current teams, 2022 offers one of the greatest free agent classes ever at the position. Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javy Baez, Carlos Correa, and Marcus Semien all could hit open market.

With Nelson Cruz, Michael Pineda, Simmons, J.A. Happ, and more entering free agency in 2022, the Twins will have $45.5 million dollars coming off the roster. That’s a good chunk of loose change, especially with Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, and more young talent taking up roster space on cheaper deals.

The Twins could offer up to $25 million a year and still have money for extensions for Berrios, Buxton, Duffey, and Rogers, all of whom would become free agents in 2023. If there was a season for the Twins to make a big push, it would be 2022.

If they did decide to drop around $15-$25 million on a new shortstop, this would create a new problem for 2023: finding playing time for Royce Lewis, All of those big names would likely want a multi-year deal, and that gets sticky if Lewis rebounds well.

If Lewis bounces back and tears up Double-AA, the Twins will need to find playing time for him. With Donaldson, Arraez, Polanco, a new shortstop, and Buxton all filling the spots Lewis will be able to play, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. Could a trade be the answer?

In theory, yes. If the Twins were to land a high profile arm or shortstop via trade, the Twins would consider sending him off, but it would likely cost more than just Lewis. That would cause the Twins to think twice about sending him away, especially when that means selling Lewis at his very lowest point.

Lewis still has the highest potential of any prospect the Minnesota Twins have, so I don’t expect them to give up on him or sell low. I haven’t been as high on him since he struggled in 2019, but I still believe the ceiling is there. Hopefully the Twins will be able to adjust and plan around his recovery while fans just hope for the best.