The Twins are, Believe it or Not, Reasonably Equipped to Weather Correa Injury
Happy Royce Lewis Day to all who celebrate
It’s Royce Lewis day.
You can be forgiven if you’re of the mind that this day doesn’t feel like there are chorus bells ringing, celebrating the arrival of the chosen one — even if the No. 1 pick from 2017 draft is about to make the most highly anticipated debut for a Twin since the guy who’ll most likely be standing behind him in center field on Friday evening.
Sorry, that was a lot of words.
It’s Lewis Day, but it’s a swap of No. 1 picks as he’ll ostensibly take over short for the injured Carlos Correa, who — at least as of now — appears to have a displaced fracture of his right middle finger.
And maybe it being the middle finger is apropos of how Twins fans feel right now, even though the team is 15-11 and in first place by 2.5 games.
But this isn’t fair to Lewis, who has come a long way just to simply begin his MLB career.
Indeed, Twitter user TheMix. Indeed.
Is it a gut punch to have your $35 million shortstop out for probably a month-plus?
Are the Twins equipped to stem the tide of such a loss?
I would say inasmuch as anyone can be expected to replace the production of the guy who has accumulated 27.5 WAR via Fangraphs since his debut in 2015. That ranks third among shortstops in that time frame, behind $300-plus million man Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts, who is about to opt out this offseason and cash in, be it with the Red Sox or elsewhere.
So yeah, to reiterate it’s a massive loss.
But let’s break this down. Let’s be fair to Lewis, who is having a monster return season reminiscent of what Alex Kirilloff did in 2018. Kirilloff missed the entire 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery, and came back and slashed a ridiculous .348/.392/.578 across 561 plate appearances at Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers.
Lewis not only missed the 2020 season with COVID canceling the minors that year, but also the 2021 season with a torn ACL. He’s come roaring back at Triple-A St. Paul as the veteran of just 148 Double-A plate appearances — again, back in 2019 — to slash .310/.430/.563 across his first 107 plate appearances with the Saints.
It’s not as though Lewis hasn’t fared well in spots in his minor-league career, either. He more than held his own in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 (.975 OPS) against some solid competition in 2019. He’s been about three years young for the levels he’s played at across the board, and the moving parts in his swing seem to have been a big part in his struggles during the regular season in 2019 (.661 OPS between Fort Myers and Pensacola).
How far can these last two stretches of play we’ve seen from Lewis go? It’s only a touch over 200 plate appearances between the Fall League and Triple-A, and they’re more than two years apart.
And it feels as though Lewis might be the type of toolsy prospect who could struggle right out of the gates, as many Twins prospects have. Torii Hunter, who was instrumental in the Twins selecting Lewis in the first place, was one of those prospects. So too did Buxton and Hicks struggle.
But the support system behind Lewis is all the more reason to believe the Twins could be OK.
First of all, it’s not as though Correa was lighting the world on fire. Among all shortstops, he was 20th in fWAR (0.3) with a .255/.320/.372 slash line (108 wRC+) and very good defense. What’s unfortunate, in this case, was that he appeared to be finding his swing with a slash of .412/.444/.588 over his last eight games.
Behind Lewis, there’s depth. Jorge Polanco has been an All-Star starter at short. He is more than capable of handling the spot for a month. Gio Urshela has played some shortstop. Nick Gordon can step in.
And it’s a balanced Twins offense that Lewis is stepping into. Nine Twins players — including Correa and the injured Kyle Garlick — have appreciable plate appearances and an OPS+ above 100. Lewis will likely hit in the bottom-third of the lineup and not be asked to do too much other than move the line, show speed on the bases and pick the ball up at short.
It’s, at least from this vantage point, a lot less pressure than someone like Buxton, Hicks or even Miguel Sano had when they came up. Hicks was thrust into the starting role in center field on Opening Day in 2013, and went an impossibly bad 8-for-71 in April (.356 OPS with just one extra-base hit). Buxton and Sano both debuted on teams that had minimal expectations since it had been so long since the team had been any good.
Is Lewis debuting on a good Twins team? It’s fair to say the jury is still out, even with the team in first place.
There’s no denying how hard it is to wash the stink off a team that played as poorly as the Twins did last year. The same was true in 2016, when they played so badly (59-103) that they fired team legend Terry Ryan and landed the No. 1 pick for the first time since Joe Mauer in 2001. They used that pick to select Lewis, who turned two years old on June 5, 2001 — the day the Twins drafted Mauer.
But if there was a month for Correa to miss, May would be it. The Twins play hapless Oakland starting Friday evening at Target Field, and go Houston-Cleveland-Oakland-Kansas City-Detroit-Kansas City-Detroit to finish out the month.
Houston is the only one of these teams with a winning record (15-11, like the Twins, entering Friday). These are still major-league teams and the Twins still need to take care of business, but is it unfair to say if they don’t still have a respectable May that with or without Correa that’s still not a great sign?
Something that’ll also be of utmost importance is keeping Buxton upright in May. We’ve all seen the numbers which suggest the team is much, much better with him in the lineup rather than out of it (surprise!), but now he’s going to be relied upon more heavily for everyday production atop the Twins lineup, especially with Correa vacating the No. 2 spot in the order behind him.
But again, it’s not necessarily all bad. The cascade effect should free up more plate appearances for Luis Arraez — albeit indirectly, as he won't play short — as the team continues to play mix-and-match at basically every infield position outside of second base in Correa’s absence.
That mix could include second base if Polanco is asked to move back to short for the time being, too.
Arraez, by the way, is slashing an obscene .359/.443/.453 against righties this season.
Again, to restate the overall thesis: it is, in no way, ideal that Correa is going to be down for a month-plus. But either way, I think the Twins are well equipped — at least as much as possible — to stem the tide until the Correa returns.