FORT MYERS, Fla. — Royce Lewis isn't a Twin yet, and won't be for awhile now. Not after suffering a very Minnesota injury.
Lewis, the overall No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, slipped on a patch of ice outside his Dallas home last week, the team announced, and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Twins' top-rated prospect will undergo surgery in the Twin Cities on Friday, and will miss the entire 2021 season.
"You just feel for him. You feel for everybody around him," Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said in announcing the news. "It's disappointing, but you regroup, you face adversity, and our group is prepared to help him."
Lewis' knee was already sore during workouts as he prepared for camp over the past month, particularly during side-to-side drills, Falvey said, so the Twins cannot pinpoint the exact moment the ligament tore away from the bone.
But last week, as winter storms plunged Texas into an unusual winter freeze, "he slipped [on some ice] and felt his knee go, felt that same soreness," Falvey said. "It's just hard to know" if that slip did the damage. "The MRI revealed a full tear, but he wasn't in extreme pain."
Lewis, in fact, believed it was just a bruise or strain, and reported to camp last weekend, prepared to resume a promising career already put on hold by COVID-19, which triggered the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. During a routine physical exam on Monday, the team's orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Michael Knudsen, determined that the injury was more serious and ordered the MRI, which confirmed the diagnosis.
Reconstructive surgery was recommended, followed by rehabilitation for 9-12 months. The Twins expect Lewis to be ready for camp next spring — 28 months after his last competitive at-bat.
"Yeah, that's difficult. It's something he recognizes," Falvey said of the shortstop, who also worked out last summer at second base, third base and center field as part of the Twins' secondary-site extra players at CHS Field in St. Paul. "He certainly will lose a couple of years' worth of regular, everyday at-bats. But how you respond to the adversity is more important than anything else."
In that, Falvey said he's confident that this is a minor setback for Lewis, not a defeat.
"The thing about Royce is, he's such a positive kid and positive person. And he's such an incredibly hard worker," Falvey said. "That is a good foundation to build on."
The Twins figure Lewis, who signed for a $6.725 million bonus after being selected with the first pick of the 2017 draft, will be part of their foundation, too. They signed free agent Andrelton Simmons to man shortstop for 2021, with the hope that Lewis might climb within reach of the majors this season. Instead, he'll be on crutches for the several weeks, and likely living in the team's dorm at their year-round rehab center in Fort Myers for a few more months. Twins team doctor Chris Camp will perform the surgery.
Meanwhile, the Twins can replace Lewis on their 75-player camp roster. He's not on their 40-man major league roster, but must be placed on it this fall in order to protect him from next December's Rule 5 draft.
Lewis' most recent season was an inconsistent one. He batted only .238 with 10 home runs in 94 games at Class A Fort Myers, and when he was promoted anyway to Class AA Pensacola, he hit just .231 in 33 games. But the Twins sent him to the Arizona Fall League for additional at-bats, and he responded with a robust month — .353 with three homers and a .975 OPS in 22 games — that earned him Most Valuable Player honors. He likely would have begun the season at Double-A again, but was expected to reach Class AAA St. Paul this summer.
Along with Joe Mauer in 1999, Lewis is the second No. 1 overall pick to sign with the Twins. But he's also the third high Twins pick to suffer a season-ending injury. Alex Kirilloff, taken 15th in 2016, missed the following season after having elbow ligament-replacement surgery. And Brent Rooker, taken with the Twins' next pick after Lewis, suffered a fractured forearm when hit by a pitch last September in just his seventh MLB game.