* * * * *
Each week, Jared Wyllys digs into his notebook and shares some info on a prospect of his choice, then passes along some select entries from our 2018 Prospect Spotlight Library and 2018 Pro Scouting Report Library. This week, we get a closer look at 2017 first overall selection Royce Lewis (SS, Twins (Class A Cedar Rapids)), who opens up about some of the challenges of keeping a level head inpro ball and keeping a long-term view in approaching development, all while under the bright spotlight of a top draft pick and top prospect.
* * * * *
Prospect Focus: Royce Lewis, SS, Twins (Class A Cedar Rapids, Midwest League)
The biggest challenge for Royce Lewis comes when he’s not on the field. Being taken first overall by the Twins in last year’s draft has put a spotlight on him ever since, a focus that will probably always hover over him no matter how his career turns out.
But both between the lines and outside of them, Lewis has thus far handled his new life without too much strain. He excels at the plate and on defense while handling the pressure of weighty expectations with a disarmingly sunny disposition.
Lewis went 4-for-5 in his first game in the Midwest League last August, and he hasn’t really slowed down much since then. As a result, he is regularly swarmed by autograph seekers wherever his Cedar Rapids team travels. They meet him getting off the bus, line up by the dugout as soon as the gates to the ballpark open, and they wait for him to exit the clubhouse after a game. Some of them are there just because they want to meet him, even for a second, but Lewis knows that most of them are not. And sometimes this gets to him a little.
“That’s probably been the hardest part. Kinda not being human, really,” Lewis says.
He hears the fans joking with each other about what his autograph will sell for and what that money will cover, and he sees the kids who have been commissioned to approach him by a Dad, an Uncle, or just a guy at the game looking to profit from his signature on something. Despite having just turned 19 this week, Lewis accepts this with grace. Even when he doesn’t want to, he puts on a smile because he knows that’s the best thing to do.
“It sucks knowing that you’re being taken advantage of,” Lewis says. “I guess I’m glad I’m helping them. I just try to be as nice as I can. They’re not doing anything harmful, that’s just human nature. There’s going to be some cheaters, liars, that’s the world. So I’m just praying and hopeful that most of the people are here just to see me.”
If they are there just to see Lewis play, they’ll not go away disappointed. Last year, just two months after turning 18 years old, he hit .296 in 71 at-bats for Cedar Rapids. So far this season, Lewis is hitting a tick better while cutting his strikeout rate by five percent.
He has a veteran’s feel for the game and a seasoned attitude about its ebbs and flows. It’s the same maturity that helps him manage the crowds of autograph-seekers that is contributing to his success despite the challenge of playing in full-season ball.
“It’s a game of failure. You’re supposed to get out 7 out of 10 times. Knowing that helps a lot, especially when you look up and see Mike Trout or Bryce Harper and all those greats, and they’re still batting .280 or .300, and you’re like ‘I’m in the same company, I’m doing alright’,” Lewis says.
A guy his age shouldn’t have that kind of poise, but Lewis credits his family and his support system in the Twins organization for helping with that. He ticks off names like Joe Mauer, Byron Buxton, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, even Rod Carew when he talks about the veterans who have have given him advice, and then he talks about how much it helps to just go home after games and do the things normal guys his age do: go to dinner, be with friends and family, and play video games.
But the hard days come, like going 0-for-9 against Burlington this past weekend. He still feels the pressure to perform then, but only when he leaves the field.
“It’s hard. It definitely gets in my head, for sure. It’s all craziness,” Lewis says. “Sometimes at the end of the night, you go back home and you hit the pillow, it gets to your head and it’s overwhelming. But on the field, it’s the easiest part. That’s when I’m free. That’s just the freedom for me, just getting to play the game I love.”
Lewis has always played the game well, even as he has had to adapt to the new challenges it’s brought. He said when he first arrived in Class A, the quickness of the game posed an early challenge. He handled that just fine, going 7-for-13 in his first three games in 2017. He has seen in this second go-round in the Midwest League that pitchers approach him differently, often pitching him backwards. But, true to form, even when this means he doesn’t get hits, he’s grateful for the learning opportunity this presents.
“At the end of the day it’s just going to help me, whether I get the hit today or ten years from now,” Lewis says, “I’d rather get the hit ten years from now. All these things are going to help me in the future. I’m excited that people pitch me differently because it just makes me better.”
It is likely that ten years from now, Lewis will still be handling crowds of autograph seekers and the close attention of a star player. And like he has with every facet of his professional baseball life so far, he will probably be doing it all with a smile. –Jared Wyllys
Weekly Featured Reports