Being drafted #1 overall in baseball is certainly different than being drafted #1 overall in the NFL or other leagues. Pomp and circumstance? How about a slot in Single-A ball in Iowa?
While he certainly got a HUGE signing bonus, playing his first two months at rookie-level baseball and then moving up to the long bus rides of Single-A baseball isn’t exactly the high life. He has a long road before he can start thinking about getting called up to the majors, despite his obvious athletic and baseball abilities.
Still, Royce Lewis is making the most of his opportunity in the minor leagues. Let’s take a look at him and consider what may be next for him in 2019 and beyond.
Starting in So Cal
Southern California is certainly a great place to play baseball. Great weather around the year makes it easier than many parts of the United States when it comes to developing your baseball skills. No need to freeze it out four months a year.
Four years of baseball in high school helped Lewis stand out, as he was named the Los Angeles Times high school baseball player of the year in his junior year. He had posted a batting average of .429 with four home runs. He was definitely turning heads!
After he finished high school, he decided to enter the 2017 major league draft instead of pursuing college baseball.
The 2017 MLB Draft: #1 Overall
When the Minnesota Twins selected Royce #1 overall, it was hailed by reporters as a great move that added an elite athlete to the organization.
MLB.com reported that Lewis "has the most complete package of tools of any player in the class." He was described as having excellent bat speed and being expected to grow into his power.
The Twins had been focused on Lewis for over a year before the draft itself. They knew, during their dismal 59-103 year in 2016, that they’d be likely to be at the top of the draft.
Still, Lewis’ selection was a bit of a surprise, since players like Brendan McKay and Hunter Greene were better two-way players. One reason the VP of player personnel shared was that money was a factor, and that those players might demand more. The Twins didn’t think any player was worth that much more than another.
Still, after citing money as a factor, the Twins turned around and gave Royce Lewis a signing bonus of $6,725,000, which is the most for a high school player since the new compensation system began five years ago. It was, however, lower than the $7.7 slot value for the #1 pick.
The Twins announced that he would begin his career with Minnesota’s rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida.
2017 Season: Rookie League and Single-A
Royce started the 2017 season in the Gulf Coast League and hit a home run in his debut game. He went 2 for 4 overall, and the team won 5-2.
Lewis was extremely excited by his debut. "It was awesome," Lewis told MiLB.com. "You work so hard and finally become a player in the Minors, and it's a great start to your professional career. Rounding the bases, it felt amazing. [I was] not nervous. I was just looking to drive a ball, looking to hit the ball hard, stay up the middle and it felt like I did that today."
The Twins positioned him at shortstop throughout his rookie year. He played two months in the Gulf Coast League, playing 36 games and recording 19 walks, 17 strikeouts, a batting average of .271. He also succeeded at 13 out of 15 base stealing attempts and had a .390 OBP and three home runs.
As a result, he was transitioned to full-season Single-A ball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This was a big jump for a first-year high school product.
Just like he did in the GCL, Lewis had an incredible debut in Cedar Rapids. He went 4 for 5 in his first game in Cedar Rapids in August of 2017. He had two runs scored and an RBI. His future was incredibly bright and his immediate production turned a lot of heads!
2018 Season: Single-A With the Kernels and Ft. Myers
Lewis’ meteoric rise continued in his second year. He played 75 games with the Kernels, recording 93 hits with 9 home runs and a batting average of .315 before being promoted yet again.
The Kernels are Low A baseball, and Lewis was promoted to High A ball with the Fort Myers Miracle. His coach shared the news in a humorous way and Lewis laughed, his upbeat personality still in full force. His coach said, "What really makes him special is the type of person he is. He’s a really good teammate. He makes the people around him better. That’s part of the reason he was the No. 1 draft pick."
What’s amazing is that so far in Fort Myers he’s done even better than he did at the Kernels. In 25 games he’s had 33 hits with 3 home runs and a batting average of .327. He’s improving even as he moves up!
What’s Next for Royce Lewis?
There’s no doubt Royce is an incredible talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a dozen Little League baseball trading pins from the tournaments he got his start in. Could he have imagined where he’d be now?
For being 18 and moving up so quickly through the minor leagues, Royce seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He knows he still has a long road before the Majors come calling.
"I’m 19," Lewis said. "Maybe next year, I can start getting into that conversation, but I feel like I’ve got a ways to go."
That’s an attitude that’s incredibly rare among young people in general, much less #1 draft picks in the pros. I’m rooting for him – I want to see him at Target Field sometime soon!