Let the "Rolls" Royce references begin. As if they hadn't already.
After the Twins selected high school shortstop Royce Lewis with the first overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft, expectations for the athletic teenager were immediately elevated. They skyrocketed after he homered in his first professional at-bat for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Twins.
With an uncharacteristically quick promotion to the Twins' full season Class A affiliate in Cedar Rapids over the weekend, many were wondering what Lewis would do for an encore against pitching two full levels higher than what he had faced in the GCL.
Fans didn't have to wait long to get an answer as Kernels manager Tommy Watkins immediately inserted Lewis into the leadoff spot on his lineup card Saturday night.
By the end of the weekend, Lewis had five singles in nine at-bats, including hits in his first four at-bats in Saturday night's Midwest League debut against Quad Cities.
“The level of play is definitely a lot quicker up here, for sure,” Lewis said following Sunday’s game. “The speed of the game speeds up each level you go up and me skipping Elizabethton is a little jump. The level of play, it’s definitely a little bit harder. I appreciate the opportunity to be up here and I’m having a lot of fun taking advantage. It’s a lot of fun playing up here, I’ll tell you that.”
Lewis gets a bro hug from Mr. Shucks, the Cedar Rapids Kernels mascot. (Steve Buhr photo)
While Lewis is happy to be in Cedar Rapids, his manager is enjoying having him aboard, as well. “It’s fun to watch,” Watkins said, following Lewis’ four-hit effort on Saturday. “He takes some good at-bats. His second at-bat, he took a defensive swing on a pitch and then got locked right back in and hit that ball to right field. He looked good.
"I think he’ll bring a little energy to the team.”
The Kernels qualified for the Midwest League Playoffs with a second-place finish in their division during the season's first half, so the Twins’ promotion of Lewis means he’ll get a taste of playoff baseball in September.
One sign of the buzz surrounding Lewis: On Saturday night in Cedar Rapids, the Kernels wore special "Beach Night" uniforms that were auctioned off during the game. Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that Lewis' jersey was sold for $900. (The bidding for all of the jerseys started at $75 and Lewis' was at $300 before the first pitch was thrown.)
Lewis batted leadoff in both games. The promotion came after Lewis had played 36 games for the GCL Twins, batting .271 with three home runs and a .390 on-base percentage. Part of the reason for the promotion was to get him postseason experience with the Kernels when their season continues into mid-September.
But Watkins said that Lewis, 18, won’t be pushed too hard during the final couple of weeks of the Kernels’ regular season. One of the adjustments from high school baseball to the pros is the everyday grind.
“I think the plan is to play him a couple of days, then give him a day or two (off)," Watkins said. "Definitely not try to overload him with swinging every day. He’s coming from a high school season, first taste of pro ball, so we’ll ease him in.”
Steve Buhr writes for knuckleballsblog.com and has contributed photos and stories to Twins Daily. He lives in Cedar Rapids.