For the last calendar year, the Twins have been severely shorthanded. They haven't fielded anything close to an optimal lineup since May 2022, when Byron Buxton was playing in center field and Royce Lewis was making his big-league audition.
Beginning on Monday in Houston, the Twins will be as close to whole, offensively, as they have been since that May, when they went 18-12 and took temporary command of the AL Central.
Lewis, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, will be activated in time for Monday's game, along with right fielder Max Kepler. That would leave the Twins missing only one key position player: second baseman Jorge Polanco, who could be activated from the injured list later this week.
Lewis, Correa, Buxton, Polanco, Alex Kirilloff, Joey Gallo, Kepler — that top seven, in whatever order, should make the Twins a formidable offensive team, and Lewis' talent and charisma could give the Twins the boost they so desperately need.
"He can jolt you with his enthusiasm and all of the exciting things that he can do," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
The Twins have a long history of top prospects taking time to acclimate to the big leagues. Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, A.J. Pierzynski and Buxton are among the many who required regular shuttles between the majors and minors before they performed to their capabilities.
In Lewis' first big-league stint last May, he hit .300 with a .550 slugging percentage and .867 OPS in 41 plate appearances. He displayed speed, power and confidence, looking like a big-leaguer from his first at-bat. In that way, he was reminiscent of another Twins player who was the first pick in the draft — Joe Mauer, who, coincidentally, visited the Twins on Sunday morning with his kids.
It's unfair to ask a young player who has lost playing time to knee injuries and a COVID-19 shutdown to rescue a contending big-league team, but Lewis seems to have the personality to handle it.
He even has a chance to be the Twins' best all-around player, for the moment.
When Buxton is healthy and playing center field, there are few better players in the big leagues. Right now, he's a slumping DH. Sunday, in the Twins' 3-0 loss to Toronto at Target Field, Buxton went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, as the Twins struck out 10 times in the last four innings while putting only two balls in play. Buxton went 4-for-25 with 10 strikeouts over the homestand.
Correa is a wonderful shortstop who can hit. Lewis should be more productive offensively than Correa, and together they could form one of the better shortstop-third base combinations in the majors.
Lewis will also bring a big personality to a quiet clubhouse. He exudes enthusiasm, the way Kirby Puckett did. Even this spring, while rehabilitating from a second serious knee injury, Lewis acted like he was thrilled to be wearing a uniform.
The Twins are 4-8 in their past 12 games, having lost four series in a row. Their sporadic middle-relief problems have been exacerbated by frequently incompetent hitting. Sunday, they added incompetent baserunning and fielding to the mix.
Over those past 12 games, they are 4-1 when they score at least five runs and 0-7 when they score four runs or fewer.
"This is a culmination of a lot of hard work from Royce," Baldelli said. "I'm excited to see him back out on the field. He's put himself in a great position."
In 35 at-bats at Class AAA St. Paul, Lewis hit .333 with a 1.099 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage). His minor league numbers were not eye-popping until he went to the Arizona Fall League in 2019.
Since then: Arizona Fall League OPS: .975. St. Paul 2022 OPS: .940. Twins 2022 OPS: .867. Class AA Wichita 2022 OPS: 1.000. St. Paul 2023 OPS: 1.099. Each is a small sample size. Together, they paint a portrait of a fast riser.
Sunday, Baldelli reiterated that Buxton won't play in the field anytime soon.
That leaves a defined role for Lewis, if he's ready: Be the Twins' best all-around player, and jump-start this team.