FORT MYERS, Fla. — Royce Lewis would like to clear something up, something that has become somewhat of a running joke, even among his family members: He did not tear his ACL slipping on ice.
Lewis, who will miss the entire 2021 season after having his knee surgically repaired last Friday, has managed to remain positive despite a “devastating” diagnosis that came as more or less a shock to him. The Twins’ top prospect felt “a little jolt” in his right knee at home last month while doing an agility drill (5-10-5s), cutting left and right around a set of cones. He shut his workout down, iced his knee and continued about his day.
Days later, on Feb. 18, while setting up cameras and preparing his house to leave for spring training, the 21-year-old shortstop lost his balance on some ice outside his house in Dallas — though he did not fall — jolting the knee again.
He thought it might be a bruise or hyperextension. He continued icing the knee and using compression sleeves, but once the swelling went down, he went out for a run. The very next day, last Monday, while undergoing a physical, Dr. Michael Knudsen noticed something was wrong.
A subsequent MRI revealed the worst-case scenario. Lewis was stunned and didn’t know what to do, first calling his mom to deliver the news. Now, nearly a week removed from the surgery, Lewis has decided a year away from playing could be a blessing in disguise, giving him time to better himself as a person and as a player.
“I’m strong, and I’m not going to let something like this tear me down, literally and figuratively,” Lewis said. “It’s just going to be a good year for me to grow. I didn’t expect myself to obviously start in the big leagues this year either way, so my mentality was, ‘How am I going to grow and continue to learn?’ And I can still do those things while I’m hurt.”
Lewis has returned to Fort Myers, where he will spend the year rehabbing his knee. While going through that process, Lewis likely will stay on-site at the Twins’ complex, providing him easy access to walk — or crutch — over to where he needs to be.
Within two to four weeks of the surgery, he hopes to be able to ditch his crutches for good. He can’t drive yet, but he’s looking forward to getting his car to Florida so he can mix it up and take the occasional trip to Chik-Fil-A.
Soon, he’ll be able to ride the bike and then after two or three months, begin jogging. His timetable should have him back and ready by the beginning of spring training next year.
“I will say I am progressing a little faster than they thought, and I told them, ‘Watch out. My body is a beast. You’ve just got to work with me,’ ” Lewis said. “…Some days it’s going to be great, and some days the quad is not moving and you’re unable to lift your leg and you’re pissed off.”
The character and makeup that led the Twins to pick up Lewis with the first overall pick in the 2017 draft is something manager Rocco Baldelli believes will be a benefit to him as he endures a grueling rehab process.
“By nature, he does have a very good energy about him. He’s got great positivity on a daily basis, and you need that,” Baldelli said. “You have to stay optimistic. You have to keep to the task in hand. What’s in front of him is a fairly lengthy process but not something that he can’t handle.”
The entire year spent rehabbing means that by the time Lewis plays in another minor-league game — Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey suggested earlier he likely would have begun this season at Double-A Wichita — it will have been two full seasons since his last game. Lewis trained at the Twins’ alternate site in St. Paul last year, and he said he was in a good place after spending the year there spraying the ball to all fields. But since the Minor League Baseball season was dashed in 2020, he didn’t face competition other than his teammates.
Though Lewis will miss out on a year of development because of his injury, he is confident he’s going to get through the year even stronger.
“2022 is going to be scary and spooky, man,” he said. “Just watch out.”