FORT MYERS, FLA. – There are 60 stalls for 57 players in the Twins clubhouse at Hammond Stadium. Three are left open for either logistical purposes or for tenured players.
There are 63 players in camp, so a group of six temporary stalls are set up at a far end of the clubhouse, usually given to players who aren’t expected to last in camp.
This is where shortstop Royce Lewis, the top prospect in the Twins farm system and one of the best prospects in all of baseball, is dressing during his first major league spring training.
Slowed by a right oblique strain — he injured himself diving for a ball on Feb. 22 during a drill — that might keep him out of games until he’s cut from camp, Lewis nevertheless is absorbing knowledge from the veterans and coaches. He has even sat next to Hall of Famer Rod Carew during games, listening to his wisdom.
“Everything I can,” Lewis said. “I’m learning to build on routines, how to have a pregame, postgame routine and how to prepare for the next day. Because it is an everyday grind. It’s not about, ‘Oh, I’m playing today and then I don’t play until next Wednesday,’ like in high school. So it is just building a routine and just learning from these guys.”
Lewis tops one of the better farm systems in baseball. The Twins, with a solid group of position prospects and improving group of hard throwing pitchers, are ranked as the fourth-best farm system by ESPN’s Keith Law and eighth by both Baseball America and MLB.com.
Lewis, outfielder Alex Kirilloff and righthanded pitcher Brusdar Graterol top the Twins’ prospect list.
It’s easy to forget that Lewis doesn’t turn 20 until April 19. Or that he’s been a pro for just two seasons. The hype he’s received since the Twins selected him with the first overall pick in 2017 — passing on rocket-armed righthander Hunter Greene — has not stopped since that draft. He could be as close to a five-tool player as a team could hope for — producing in every offensive category while handling one of baseball’s most demanding positions, a position some doubted he would play by the time he makes the major leagues.
Lewis only played shortstop for one year at Junipero Serra High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. He’s been learning the nuances of the position while batting .288 with 18 home runs, 101 RBI and 46 stolen bases over his first 175 minor league games.
When told that a scout from a National League team saw him play last season and described him as an athlete learning to be a baseball-playing athlete, Lewis nodded.
“I think what they are talking about more is just the rawness at shortstop and, 100 percent, I’d have to agree,” Lewis said. “It’s that I hadn’t had many of those reps. I didn’t play shortstop until my senior year of high school. So being able to have about two years of shortstop under my belt, I’m going to totally grow from here.”
There were questions when Lewis was drafted of whether the Twins would be resigned to move him to center field. In February of 2018, Lewis arrived to Fort Myers early and worked out on a back field. At one point Lewis went to the outfield to shag fly balls.
Former Twin Torii Hunter, in camp as a special instructor, watched for few moments, saw how smooth Lewis looked, and began to yell at him.
“What are you doing!” Hunter said jokingly. “Don’t let them see you out there. They may leave you out there!”
Lewis has quieted those concerns.
“He keeps getting better,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said. “In my mind, there is no end game for him, just continue to take steps. But his transfer, his hands, release, arm strength, everything has gotten better over the course of the last 12 months.
“There’s no reason to think that, over the next 12 months, that he won’t continue to improve.”
The Twins would love to see Lewis in spring training games. Oblique injuries, however, can last for weeks if aggravated. So he’ll likely be sent — cut from the major league camp, actually — to the minor league facility to continue his rehabilitation.
The Twins are more than open to bringing Lewis back as an extra player during late spring training games. Kirilloff, for instance, has appeared in six games and recorded three hits in 14 at-bats.
Falvey and Lewis have a running joke about the prospect not rushing his recovery. Every day, Falvey tells Lewis to take it slowly, so he starts to laugh as soon as Falvey appears on his radar.
The Twins intended for Lewis and Kirilloff to be exposed to the major league environment as they continue their development. And that has happened, just in different ways.
Lewis nodded toward Nelson Cruz and Jonathan Schoop, whose stalls are just a few feet away, as an example of what he’s gotten out of his first major league camp.
“Their lockers are right here, so it’s easy for me to watch them,” Lewis said. “I don’t have to say anything to them, just watch. And I think being injured might have helped my perspective in sitting back and watching.
“Honestly, I look at it as a blessing. My body might have needed that break, so maybe it happened at the right time.”