Sunday Notes: Twins Prospect Royce Lewis Has a Cacophonous Swing and a Sky-High Ceiling

The swing is noisy and needs refining, but Lewis has the physical ability for superstardom.

That line, written by Eric Longenhagen, led Royce Lewis’s writeup in our 2020 Top 100 Prospects rankings, which were published earlier this week. Both halves of the sentence are intriguing. While the first is potentially a red flag, the second is indicative of a blue-chip up-and-comer with a sky-high ceiling. Selected first overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2017 draft out of a San Juan Capistrano high school, Lewis holds down the No. 13 slot on Longenhagen’s list.

Alex Hassan isn’t all that concerned with the 20-year-old shortstop’s swing. According to the Minnesota farm director, the underlying characteristics are what really matter. Lewis possesses plus bat speed, a good bat path, and “when he makes contact, he does a lot of damage.”

While nothing is actually broken, Lewis isn’t exactly quiet in the box.

“There are some characteristics that are unique to Royce,” said Hassan. “What’s interesting is that leg-kick piece. Last year, I went back and looked at some of his GCL video from right after he signed, and there are plenty of pitches where his leg kick goes right up to his belt, and he executes his swing from there. It’s something he’s tinkered with. It can be a big leg kick, somewhat of a medium leg kick, and at times he’ll try to get his foot down a little earlier. But the kick has been there since he came into the system. It’s simply a feature of Royce, as opposed to some kind of bug that’s popped up.”

Hassen espouses an if-it-ain’t-broke-fix-it approach, but at the same time he recognizes that excessive movement can be deleterious to a hitter’s ability to consistently square up baseballs. He’s seen Lewis make strides toward. Moreover, he’s seen them made cautiously, and without undue urging.

“There have been guys with funky stances, and funky setups, who have made it work, and had you intervened earlier you may have done them a disservice,” Hassan said. “My view on these things is that until you hit that roadblock… Royce did have some challenges last year, especially early on, so we made some suggestions and worked with him to incorporate them into his game.

Much of that work centered on the direction of Lewis’s stride, as opposed to the leg kick itself. The youngster would sometimes find himself opening up too soon — especially with the higher version of the kick — making him susceptible to pitches away. Conversely, when he maintained good direction through the middle of the field with his lower half, his plate coverage was markedly better.

And then there’s his upper half. When our Twins Top Prospects list came out in December, Lewis’s swing was described as “cacophonous” and not only for the leg kick, but also the “excessive movement in his hands.” Hassan shared that Lewis is well aware of both traits, adding that in the Arizona Fall League, Lewis showed “better direction and was maybe a tick quieter than he was earlier in the year.”

The Arizona Fall League is a big reason Lewis saw action at positions other than shortstop. The Twins had designated Alex Kiriloff their priority player as a right fielder, and by the time they decided to send Lewis to Arizona there wasn’t an everyday-shortstop position open on his team. As Hassan explained, “In order to get him on the roster, we had to be willing to play him at multiple positions. That was the first foray to him getting exposure at different spots.”

Lewis ended up playing a smattering of games at second base, third base, and in centerfield. He handled all seamlessly.

“Third base is reactive, and he’s a quick-twitch athlete, so that played well to his skill set,” Hassan recalled. “Second base, he turned double plays and made all the plays you would want at that position. Then, when he got a couple of reps [in the outfield] with Pensacola, Ramon Borrego, our Double-A manager, said, ‘This guy is the best centerfielder we have on our team right now. He’s a natural out there.’ So Royce really opened up our eyes defensively, and in a lot of different ways. One was his ability to handle shortstop. Both staffs he played for raved about his shortstop defense.”

While no positional changes are in the offing for the team’s top prospect, the Twins do place a high value on multi-positional talent.

“As an organization, versatility is something we trying to build,” explained Hassan. “We don’t approach it as, ‘OK, this is his one spot.’ I’m speaking broadly, not just to Royce’s case. The more positions you can play, the more avenues you open up to yourself to get to the big leagues. Then, once you get there, that versatility gives Rocco [Baldelli] and his staff more options. There is a yin and a yang to it — you don’t want to tip too far, to where you’re building that versatility at the expense of developing competency at one position — but again, Royce has really impressed us with his defense. And he can obviously hit. He’s an exciting young player.”

——

Carson Fulmer exuded confidence when I caught up to him late last season — this despite his having once again struggled to conquer big-league hitters with any semblance of consistency. By the close of his 2019 campaign, the 2015 first-rounder had fashioned a 6.26 ERA, and a 6.29 FIP, over 20 appearances covering 27.1 innings.

A pair of factors buoyed Fulmer’s attitude. The then-25-year-old right-hander was missing bats — counting his two dozen Triple-A outings, he had 76 punch-outs in 61.1 frames — and, even more importantly, he felt that he was closer than ever to turning what has been an elusive corner.

The extent to which he can corral his command will largely determine whether that corner indeed gets turned. Fulmer has issued 6.1 free passes per nine innings in parts of four MLB seasons. Syncing up his moving parts has been a challenge, and he acknowledges that those efforts have included a little back and forth.

“I’ve always generated a lot of power throughout my windup, so now it’s about being able to gather my body,” Fulmer told me. “When I came into the organization, I think I slowed down too much, which forced me to start cutting my fastball. I lost torque. So I went to Driveline — I live in Seattle — and worked with the guys there. That got me back to having more life, and spin, to my pitches.”

That was in the previous offseason, and while advancements were made, a slight reversal of course subsequently became necessary. His speedometer had amped up too much.

“I had to slow down a little,” admitted Fulmer. “I was so quick that my front side would fly open. Now, with a little slower leg lift, I’m able to drive down and stay tunneled toward the catcher. I’m more back-to-front now than I was for awhile.”

The Vanderbilt product also tweaked his fastball grip.

“I changed to where the horseshoe is on the right of my middle finger,” Fulmer explained. “I wanted my spin efficiency to go up. It was something like 89-90%, so I did a couple of drills and I was able to increase it to 95-96%. My college roommate, Walker Buehler, has always thrown his fastball the way I changed mine to. He obviously has a ton of life on his heater, and he’s a smart guy, so we messed around with it in spring training. My heater is playing better up in the zone than it did [in 2018].”

Buehler is a great resource for any pitcher. So is another talented right-hander who knows what it’s like to go from under-performer to rotation stalwart. Fulmer didn’t bite when I asked if he’s poised to follow in the footsteps of his breakout teammate, but he express an appreciation for what he’s done.

Lucas Giolito is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, so having him as one of my best friends has really helped me step up my confidence,” said Fulmer. “I’ve seen him do it, and now it’s up to me to go out there and produce. A big part of that is throwing more pitches in the zone. In the past, I maybe haven’t always given myself enough credit. My stuff is plenty good enough to pitch in this league. I just need to trust it, and keep continuing to learn while I do.”

——

RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Hack Wilson went 19 for 46 against Grover Cleveland Alexander.

George Washington went 3 for 14 against General Crowder.

John Kennedy went 7 for 17 against Mudcat Grant.

Lou Clinton went 9 for 46 against Whitey Ford.

Trot Nixon went 2 for 9 against David Bush.

Jack Adams went 2 for 4 against Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbread” Bailey.

———

Craig Breslow was one of several panelists at a recent Business of Baseball Lunch, which benefited Theo and Paul Epstein’s Foundation To Be Named Later. The topic at hand was “Developing Pitching in an Offensive Era,” and Breslow — currently the Director of Pitching for the Chicago Cubs — offered a thoughtful take on the balancing of new-school and old-school assessments within a young pitcher’s development process.

“There’s an importance to reality,” Breslow told an appreciative audience. “Games don’t take place in a bullpen. They don’t place in a pitching lab. They don’t take place in a vacuum. The idea of competition is real. The ability to draw from your best stuff when the game is on the line is what separates a 16-17-18-year-old pitch-data darling from someone you would run out there in a big-league game.

“I think [there is] a natural evolution in development. Early on, yes, there is value in trying to extract the greatest qualities in the grips, the physical characteristics of a pitcher. The velocity can see improvement. But at some point, we have to prime our guys on pure performance. And it’s an ongoing discussion as to how we do that. The timing… I think there’s the ability to develop those in concert, somewhat. One thing we’re trying to do is be very clear about what our priorities are for each pitcher. “

———

Peter Gammons shared the following about Bernie Williams, who has followed his 16-year career with New York Yankees with an equally-impressive musical career (if you’ve never heard Williams play the guitar, you’re missing out.):

Sometimes people want everyone to be a jock first, and then whatever else outside of that. Bernie is an artist who happened to be a great athlete and a great baseball player.”

———

NEWS ITEMS

Michael Tampellini has joined Driveline as a pitching analyst. A former MLB replay administrator, Tampellini spent last season as a player development associate with the Philadelphia Phillies,

Joe Weil has been hired as part of the broadcast team for the New York Yankee’s Eastern League affiliate, the Trenton Thunder. The 2019 Carolina League Broadcaster of the Year has spent the past four seasons with the Winston-Salem Dash.

Not yet official, but Mike Antonellis, who has been the radio voice of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs for each of the past 15 seasons, is expected to join the broadcast team of the Pawtucket Red Sox for the 2020 season. Play-by-play alumni of Boston’s Triple-A affiliate include current MLB announcers Gary Cohen, Dave Flemming, Will Flemming, Andy Freed, Aaron Goldsmith, Dave Jaegler, Jeff Levering, and Don Orsillo.

Japanese baseball legend Katsuya Nomura died earlier this week at the age of 84. A catcher for 26 seasons, Nomura finished his career with 657 home runs and 1,988 RBIs — only Sadaharu Oh had more of each. Nomura went on to manage for 24 NPB seasons and is a member of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

Michael Haupert, Tom Tango, and the late Thomas Shea are the recipients of SABR’S 2020 Henry Chadwick Awards. Presented since 2010, the award honors individuals who have made meaningful contribution to the study and enjoyment of baseball, largely through the publication of research.

Registration is now open for SABR’s 50th annual convention, which will be held in Baltimore from July 15-19. Two visits to Camden Yards are on the schedule — a Day at the Ballpark session featuring Orioles executives and players, and a Friday night game between the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

———

This year’s first Talks Hitting interview, which ran ten days ago, featured Kansas City Royals minor-league hitting coordinator Drew Saylor. The development of power-hitting outfield prospect Seuly Matias was part that discussion, which focused largely on teaching techniques and technology. Left on the cutting room floor was Saylor’s take on another promising position player.

Erick Pena is the complete package,” Saylor said of the 16-year-old outfielder out of the Dominican Republic. “Power. Plus hit tool. Can run. Can throw. He’s 6’ 3” 180, a physically imposing left-handed hitter in the box. His ceiling is almost limitless.”

Saylor went on to say that Pena displays good bat-to-ball skills for a player his age, and has a lot of leverage in his swing, which “works consistently.” He added that the precocious youngster, “Can play all three outfield spots, but I think he’ll stick in center; his overall ease of operation is plus.”

Pena signed for a reported $3,897,500 last summer. He turns 17 later this week.

———

The following excerpt from Dick Bosman on Pitching,” which was co-written by Ted Leavengood, touches on Bosman’s time as a big-league coach in the 1990s:

Dick had encountered other teams during his career as a coach that stole signs. One team had a system that used a button in the coach’s office to light a bulb in center field, which was used to flash what the catcher had called. During a game, someone was stationed in the coach’s office, where they watched a screen hooked up to the centerfield camera and then used the light to signal what the next pitch would be.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Birds on the Black, Zach Gifford educated us on John Brebbia, Edgertronics, and the spin axis of a slider.

Beyond the Boxscore’s Steven Martano wrote of how the Toronto Blue Jays project to be mediocre, yet fun to watch.

The list of former Milwaukee Brewers now playing with other teams is a long one. David Gibson ran down the notable names and places at Brew Crew Ball.

John Stolnis feels that Jake Arrieta is the key to the Phillies’ playoff chances in 2020. He shared his reasons at The Good Phight.

Over at The Des Moines Register, Tommy Birch wrote about how a trio of Iowa minor-league clubs are digging in to save professional baseball in their cities.

Alex Wilson played a great prank on Ron Gardenhire, and Chris McCoskey wrote about it at The Detroit News.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Houston Astros batters were hit by pitches 66 times in 2019, the 16th-highest total among MLB teams. The New York Mets (95) and Colorado Rockies (43) bookended last season’s HBP list.

Jarrod Dyson has 250 stolen bases and has been caught stealing 44 times. Harold Reynolds had 250 stolen bases and was caught stealing 138 times.

Todd Frazier has 1,019 hits and 214 home runs. Mark Trumbo, who is 27 days older than Frazier, has 1,018 hits and 218 home runs.

Scott Rolen played in 2,038 games, had 2,077 hits, and won eight Gold Gloves. Ken Boyer played in 2,034 games, had 2,143 hits, and won five Gold Gloves. Each was a seven-time All-Star third baseman.

Albert Belle had 1,726 hits, 381 home runs, 3,300 total bases, and a 139 wRC+. Frank Howard had 1,774 hits, 382 home runs, 3,235 total bases, and a 140 wRC+

Pete Rose had 4,256 hits and 1,314 RBIs. Graig Nettles had 2,225 hits and 1,314 RBIs.

The 1906 Chicago Cubs went 116-36 before losing to the White Sox in the World Series. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown went 26-6 with a 1.04 ERA for the Cubs that year.

Hucks Betts pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1920-1925, and the Boston Braves from 1932-1935. One of two players in MLB history born in Millsboro, Delaware— the other is Broadway Jones — Betts spent the 1926-1931 seasons with the minor-league St. Paul Saints.

Players born on this date include Creepy Crespi, who at age 24 was part of a St. Louis Cardinals team that beat the New York Yankees in the 1942 World Series. Crespy entered the Army in February 1943, broke his leg, and never returned to professional baseball in a player capacity.

FanGraphs Sunday Notes debuted on this date six years ago. More or less a trial balloon when it went up on that February 2014 weekend, the column featured Matt Harvey, Rick Waits, Oliver Drake, and Jordan Danks. With a few structural tweaks along the way, these weekly meanderings across the baseball landscape have continued unabated. Thanks for reading.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Twins Prospect Royce Lewis Has a Cacophonous Swing and a Sky-High Ceiling by David Laurila!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

newest oldest most voted
Alby
Member
Member
Alby

And thank you for writing it these past six years. It was then and remains today the best Sunday notes column on baseball.