Twins Lose Their ‘Too Electric’ Talent and a Veteran Starter

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins had a strong start to the season, taking two of three games against the Kansas City Royals. But the positive results came with the unfortunate revelations that Royce Lewis will miss at least the next month, and likely longer, with a severe right quad strain, and right-hander Anthony DeSclafani will miss the entire season after undergoing flexor tendon surgery.

If you want to know why the Twins finally defused all the jokes last fall by winning their first playoff games in more than two decades, Lewis is one of the best answers. After nearly four years of injuries kept him mostly off the diamond, Lewis finally returned last May, though he landed on the IL twice more in 2023; an oblique strain in early July cost him about month and a half, and a hamstring strain in the middle of September prematurely ended his regular season. Still, he raked whenever he was healthy, slashing .309/.372/.548 with a 151 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR in just 58 games (239 plate appearances). His flow of pure, unadulterated awesomeness continued in the postseason as he hit four homers in six games.

With the preseason hope that Lewis would get 581 plate appearances (per our Depth Charts), that was enough to project the Twins to rank fifth at third base in our positional power rankings. He got through the spring healthy and was in the Opening Day lineup for the first time ever, batting third and playing third. His 2024 debut was his career in microcosm: He blasted a no-doubt dinger in his first plate appearance, lined a single his second time up, and got hurt before he had a chance to bat again; that injury occurred almost immediately, while he was rounding second when the next batter, Carlos Correa, hit a double.

After the game, which the Twins won, 4-1, Lewis said he was relieved that the injury was not to his knee — the same knee that twice has required surgery to repair his ACL.

Sure, Lewis and the Twins avoided the worst, but this is still a brutal blow for both the player and the team. Over the weekend, after he was officially placed on the IL and the magnitude of the injury had sunk in, he said, “Maybe I’m too electric for my own good.” Heartbreaking.

The Twins almost certainly will take a conservative approach with his recovery, and upon his return, they will probably ease him back into the lineup as the designated hitter before running him out as their regular third baseman. Naturally, how Minnesota uses Lewis will also depend on the health statuses of other players on the roster, most notably Byron Buxton, who is expected to see most of his playing time in center field this season after his own history of injuries limited him to DH last year. In Lewis’ absence, the Twins will platoon Willi Castro at third against righty pitching, with Kyle Farmer playing against lefties. If not for Lewis, Minnesota would have ranked 29th in our preseason power rankings at third, so it’s clear this duo is a short-term solution. As of now, Depth Charts projects Lewis to take 405 plate appearances and accumulate 2.8 WAR at third base after he comes off the IL, but the Twins should start looking for external replacements at third in case Lewis is restricted to DH.

During the offseason, Minnesota picked up DeSclafani in the Jorge Polanco trade as a way to mitigate some of the pitching production it would lose without Sonny Gray, who signed with the Cardinals back in November after finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting. DeSclafani was about as good as he’s ever been in 2021, his first year with the Giants, when he posted a 3.17 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, and 3.0 WAR in 31 starts, but an ankle injury, which required season-ending surgery, limited him to just five starts in 2022. He was solid for the first few months of 2023, though it became clear something was wrong when he allowed six homers in three July starts after having given up nine in three times as many outings to begin the season. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection to address his ailing throwing arm. In early January, San Francisco traded him and Mitch Haniger to the Mariners for Robbie Ray, and a few weeks later, Seattle flipped DeSclafani to Minnesota. The expectation was that he would be ready for this season, but as his elbow continued to bother him into the third week of March, the team shut him down. He’ll be a free agent after this season, and it seems most likely that he’ll end up signing some type of pillow contract, such as a one-year deal with a team option for a second season.

Perhaps the only silver lining of DeSclafani’s injury for the Twins is its timing. Because it happened early in the season before he was ready for duty, they can begin to look for starting pitching solutions now instead of scrambling later on. In the meantime, however, it does leave the Twins without much margin for error in the rotation. If another starter gets injured, they’d likely have to turn to Simeon Woods Richardson, whose ZiPS projected ERA is 4.67. David Festa, the team’s no. 3 prospect, would be able to fill in at some point later in the season, but considering his command problems in his four Triple-A starts to date — three in 2023 and one so far this year — Minnesota almost certainly won’t call him up if something happens over the next few weeks. Our Depth Charts has the Twins losing about 0.7 wins in the rotation from the preseason projections. ZiPS, which generally takes a more negative view of pitcher health, has the change at 1.2 wins, reflecting Minnesota’s issues if it has to dip too far into its starter pool.

ZiPS saw the Twins as a .531 team entering the season and now projects them to have a .525 winning percentage over the rest of the season. While that doesn’t sound terrible at first glance, ZiPS projected an even tighter AL Central race than the FanGraphs preseason standings, with the Twins finishing only a game ahead of Guardians in the median projections. ZiPS now views the divisional odds for the two teams to be a virtual tie, with the Twins maintaining a very slight 39.5% to 39.3% lead.

After a two-game series against the Brewers, the Twins start a stretch in which they play 10 of 16 games against the two AL Central teams they should most be worried about this year, the Guardians and Tigers. Minnesota was already fearing the worst when it shut down DeSclafani a few weeks ago — with Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic reporting on March 22 that DeSclafani “may never throw a pitch for the Twins” — so it’s safe to assume the team wasn’t expecting him to be back in time for this early stretch. However, the Twins were hopeful that Lewis would be in the lineup. Taken in tandem, the news is a major setback in a season that got off to a promising start.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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g4member
19 days ago

Zack Greinke is available!

EonADS
19 days ago
Reply to  g4

Honestly? He’s probably a good option. They need consistency more than anything else. Greinke is nothing if not constantly present and constantly ready.

Smiling Politelymember
19 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

I dislike reality shows of all kinds…but if the Twins ended up with Joey Votto and Zack Greinke trying to pull the Minnesota into the playoffs and one, final run at glory for themselves…well, that’s a narrative I can get behind

Last edited 19 days ago by Smiling Politely