As expected, the Twins selected a prep star from California’s Orange County with the first overall pick of the Major League Baseball draft Monday.
But it wasn’t Hunter Greene.
In a move that immediately sparked debates on social media and likely will continue throughout Minnesota over the next several years, the Twins selected shortstop Royce Lewis with the No. 1 pick.
Lewis, who batted .377 for JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano, watched the draft at his grandparents’ home with friends and family. He said the roar began before MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred could finish announcing his name.
“Once my name was called I was amazed,” Lewis said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Lewis waited for three seasons to prove he can play shortstop, manning second, third and the outfield instead. He got his chance at short this season and showed the Twins the arm and range that make the club feel that he can stick at that position.
And the Twins were thorough in their evaluation, as scouting director Sean Johnson said 16 different scouts saw Lewis play over the past year, and the major league staff even looked at video.
“I have a lot of belief,” Johnson said, “and I was an early naysayer.”
The Twins turned down an opportunity to select the highly touted Greene, whose fastball has been clocked at 102 miles per hour and who was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated last month. The Twins even had Greene and his family in town Thursday and Friday to learn more about him.
In the end, the Twins were more impressed by Lewis’ physical gifts — a speedy runner with a strong arm and productive bat — as well as his makeup and leadership qualities.
“This guy has a chance to change a franchise with his personality and charisma,” Johnson said. “He’s a magnet. People want to be around him.”
Lewis, who has signed with California-Irvine, said he looks up to Carlos Correa, Derek Jeter and Francisco Lindor — all shortstops. And Lewis could bring some power. He hit a ball out of Chicago’s Wrigley Field during a prep all-star game last July.
“I feel like I haven’t grown into any of my man-strength yet,” he said.
The first draft pick by Johnson, and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey, will be viewed as controversial, given the hype surrounding Greene, who was selected No. 2 by Cincinnati. San Diego followed with MacKenzie Gore out of Whiteville, N.C., making it the first draft since 1990 that high school players were taken with the top three selections.
“A number of players in this draft were really well reviewed by those guys in that room,” Falvey said of a draft room that included about 35 officials. “I think when you come into a draft, you’re picking 1-1, you’re looking at all the players — we want to make sure we’re as objective as possible.”
As Monday unfolded, various reports had the Twins linked to Lewis, Greene and Louisville first baseman-pitcher Brandon McKay. Radcliff said the final decision was made five minutes before the draft began.
All indications are that Lewis’ bonus will be less than the league-recommended amount of $7.7 million — even with über-agent Scott Boras advising him. That will give the Twins the flexibility to sign a player later in the draft who might be viewed as hard to sign.
With the 35th overall pick, the Twins selected Mississippi State outfielder/first baseman Brent Rooker. Two picks later, with the first choice in the second round, they got Canadian prep righthander Landon Leach.
Rooker was drafted by the Twins in the 38th round last year, but the sides could not agree on a bonus. Rooker returned to the Bulldogs and was named SEC Player of the Year, with 23 homers and 82 RBI through 67 games.
“One of the best bats left on the board,” Johnson said.
Leach is a catcher-turned-pitcher who the Twins believe has good upside. He can touch 95 mph with his fastball and has the makings of a good breaking ball.
“We love his delivery, from a development standpoint,” Johnson said. “We feel we can add a lot to that body and size. He’s got present pitches.”
While fans were left absorbing the Lewis selection, Lewis used his moment to point out that he and Greene went 1-2 in the draft.
“I actually talked to him before the draft and gave him a little shout out and good luck,” Lewis said. “I think it says that southern Orange County and California in general is back, baby.”