Hard Work and Adjustments Have Royce Lewis Back on an All Star Track
After missing a season due to COVID and another due to injury, Royce Lewis is making up for lost time by taking huge leaps in his development.
It has been somewhat of a wild ride for Minnesota Twins prospect Royce Lewis ever since he heard his name called first overall in 2017’s MLB Draft. Lewis made a smooth transition from the California prep ranks straight into professional baseball, posting impressive offensive numbers in both the rookie and Low-A levels.
It was natural athleticism and solid bat-to-ball skills that allowed Lewis to produce against lower level pitching, but the loud movements to his swing and an aggressive approach led to some inconsistencies at the plate against more experienced pitching.
After a tough 2019, Lewis appeared to be turning things around in the Arizona Fall League, hitting to a .975 OPS on his way to being named the AFL MVP. 2020’s cancelled Minor League season was followed up by an unfortunate ACL injury which claimed his 2021 season as well. As a result, Lewis entered this year having not played in game action for more than two years.
Lewis began to fade off of many top prospect lists and I even found myself naively counting out the talented shortstop. The soon-to-be 23-year-old has come out in 2022 with something to prove, and as far as I’m concerned, he has already made it clear that it was a bad idea to ever count him out.
Two years off of game action provides a player a lot of time to reflect on his swing and tinker. It is clear that Lewis has done just that, stepping to the plate with a much quieter and simplified setup.
Lewis’s extraneous movements were extremely difficult to duplicate and as a result, he would often lose control of his lower half and struggle to keep his weight back.
As you can see in the swing above, Lewis’s extreme leg kick resulted in not only the right-handed hitter struggling to pick up spin, but also an early forward move that was sapping his power when he did connect.
Lewis’ “leak” with his lower half contributed to the lowest HR/FB% of his career in 2019, while pulling the baseball more than he ever had. We see some hitters able to make consistent contact despite a lot of moving parts, but for Lewis, it was just too challenging to keep his weight back and that was visible even through his takes.
In an effort to make repeating all of his movements even easier, Lewis also slowed his hand movement down a bit and starts them in a spot where it is easier to repeat getting into his “slot” prior to launching.
The Twins were originally working with Lewis on toning down the leg kick with two strikes similar to Bo Bichette or Triston Casas, but that type of swing malleability is extremely difficult. It would be understandable to worry if the elimination of Lewis’ leg kick in favor of a toe-tap could take some impact away, but that just hasn’t been the case with the athletic shortstop.
Lewis has actually tapped into more of his raw power, producing the highest exit velocities of his career during his 24-game stint in Triple-A this year. In 2019, Lewis registered nine batted balls 110+ mph with a max exit velocity of 111 mph. So far this season, Lewis has already broken that threshold four times, including a career-best 114 mph shot.
As you can see in the video above, Lewis’s toe-tap timing mechanism helps him stay on his back hip longer which keeps his lower half more consistent while driving the ball with more authority to all fields. Pull-side, you can really see the 22-year-old’s quick twitch explosiveness as he rotates with less of his weight coming forward, but seeing the way that Lewis is now able to stay behind the baseball and drive it the other way with force is extremely encouraging as well.
Lewis did not hit a single home run to the opposite field in 2019, catching many of his well-hit balls out in front of home plate. It took all but four games for the right-handed hitter to put one over the right field wall in 2022, letting this soft Bernardo Flores fastball travel and driving it the opposite way for his first homer of the year on April 9th.
Admittedly, it is extremely early in the 2022 season to go all-in on the early results, but Lewis’ tangible adjustments in the box, followed by strong preliminary results should have Twins fans feeling really good about the dynamic shortstop still being able to attain his All-Star ceiling.
Lewis has worked equally as hard in the field to shore up his defense at shortstop and with eight stolen bases in 24 Triple-A games, it is probably safe to say that he has regained his plus speed after last year’s ACL tear.
The injury to Carlos Correa resulted in Lewis being pulled up to the big leagues a bit earlier than expected and the poise that the former 1st round pick is lauded for has been more than evident. 2017’s No. 1 overall pick could still be everything Twins fans had always hoped, just with a few detours that are already in the rearview mirror.