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Arizona Fall League Update: Royce Lewis is unstoppable

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YA BOY IS BACK

Salt River Rafters v. Surprise Saguaros Photo by Buck Davidson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

While most Twins prospects have been off the field since early September, the Arizona Fall League has given fans of prospects something to watch for a few weeks now.

What is the Arizona Fall League? It is an off-season league with six teams that play for six weeks from mid-September through the end of October. Each team consists of players from 5 MLB organizations, most often from Double-A or Triple-A and generally players who are not yet on a teams 40-man roster.

Some teams will send some of their best prospects at those levels, while other teams will send prospects who had their season shortened by injuries to get them more reps. The Twins did both this season, with 7 prospects playing for the Salt River Rafters.

Royce Lewis

Royce Lewis had a rough season between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga. In 127 games across the two levels he only hit .236/.290/.371. That is a poor season, especially for one of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball.

Instead of letting the youngster brood on his down year, the Twins sent him to Arizona and he has been on an absolute tear.

In 14 games Lewis has hit .407/459/.704 with 7 doubles, 3 homers, and a 14/6 K/BB ratio along with 3 steals in 4 attempts. That is flat-out raking and it is huge for Lewis to get back in gear against high quality competition.

I asked MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo (check out the second question and answer) if Lewis had cleaned up some of the mechanical issues that were plaguing him this season or if his success was coming despite those same issues.

Mayo mentioned that while Lewis still features a massive leg kick, his timing is much better this fall and he is focusing much more on pitch selection and trying not to swing at too many pitches out of the zone.

It is clearly working for Lewis, who also blasted a 2-run homer in the AFL All Star Game and was named that game’s MVP to boot.

An interesting note is that Lewis has yet to play shortstop in the fall league. He has spent most of his time in center field (where he played in the All Star Game) with a good amount of time at third base (where he played his junior year of high school) and one game at second base. I have yet to hear any official reasoning as to why Lewis is playing these different positions. He had only played two games at a position other than shortstop in his pro career up to this point, and those were at the end of the year this year, surely as preparation for his Fall League assignment.

The general assumption is that it is a simple mix of A) players needing to move around a bit to get as many at bats as possible on a loaded team and B) the Twins testing the positional flexibility of Lewis to fast track him to the MLB while Jorge Polanco is locked in at shortstop.

It is exciting to see Lewis hit well again, and if he can keep this solid approach and mentality into the beginning of the 2020 season it won’t be out of the question to see him in Minnesota come next fall.

Luke Raley

Raley was having an excellent 2019 until a fractured ankle derailed most of the rest of the season. He was mashing at a .302/.362/.516 clip before the injury and was only able to play five rehab games at the end of the year without making it back to Triple-A before the season ended.

He has struggled in the Fall League so far, hitting just .163/.246/.265 with 3 doubles and a triple along with a 15/2 K/BB ratio.

Seeing Raley struggle against high level competition isn’t a huge surprise since he hasn’t faced pitching at this level in a handful of months, but you would prefer he have a strong performance to make the Twins decision on him easier. Raley will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year and would need a 40-Man roster spot to avoid the chance of losing him for almost nothing. Raley had a good year at Triple-A, has plenty of raw power, and has enough positional flexibility (average or above average defense at all three outfield spots and first base) for bad teams like the Tigers or Marlins to take in the Rule 5 Draft and stash on their roster now that the roster expands to 26 players for 2020.

Ben Rortvedt

Rortvedt is a defensive-minded catcher who had a defensive-minded season that was cut just short due to injury.

He seems to be battling something still in the Fall League, playing in only 4 games thus far. He is struggling in those games with a .111/.200/.111 slash line.

I’m sure the Twins were looking to jumpstart his bat a bit with a few more plate appearances, but unfortunately things aren’t going well for Rortvedt. He will start back in Pensacola in 2020 and hopefully have enough offense to be with the Twins by 2021 or 2022.

Dakota Chalmers

Chalmers is a starting pitching prospect who the Twins landed for Fernando Rodney in 2018. He missed most of that season due Tommy John surgery, which also delayed the beginning of his 2019 season. In 34.2 regular season innings he posted a 3.63 ERA between his rehab stint in the GCL and some time in High-A Fort Myers. In those innings he posted a 48/23 K/BB ratio. He also threw 3.1 scoreless innings in the playoffs four Double-A Pensacola, with 4 strikeouts and two walks.

The Twins were looking to get him more innings in his return season, which made him a perfect candidate for the Arizona Fall League. In 4 outings so far he has thrown 10 innings and given up 5 earned runs with a 17/10 K/BB rate.

Chalmers has never had great control, so I can’t say his issues this year are just because he is coming back from Tommy John. Either way, it is good to get the 23 year old more innings coming back from injury so he can be ready for a full 2020.

Zach Neff

A 31st round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State, I can honestly say that Neff has been completely off my prospect radar until now, which is a shame.

A lefty reliever, Neff split time at both levels of Single-A this year and pitched quite well. He posted a 2.31 ERA in 39 innings at Cedar Rapids and a still solid 3.74 ERA in 33.2 innings in Fort Myers. He is a reliever with both great command and swing-and-miss stuff, posting a 89/24 K/BB ratio over the course of his 72.2 innings overall this year.

He picked up where he left off while in the Fall League. In his first 6 games he has a 2.08 ERA across 8.2 innings with 9 strikeouts and no walks.

Neff will start the 2020 season as a 24 year old, and his AFL performance might help him get his season started in Pensacola.

Jovani Moran

Moran has always been a very interesting prospect to follow since he posted a 0.36 ERA through 24.2 innings at Elizabethton in 2017. His 2018 was a solid follow up with a 2.25 ERA across the two levels of Single-A, but his control was a big problem at times. In 44.1 innings in Cedar Rapids in 2018 he walked 27, but then in 31.2 innings in Fort Myers he only walked 8.

This year the same issues followed him to Pensacola, where he walked 23 over 34.1 innings while striking out 50. He has always been able to produce strikeouts thanks to a nasty fastball/changeup combo, but he needs to reign in the control.

After an injury shortened season in 2019, he was the perfect candidate for the Fall League, since he will also be eligible for the Rule-5 Draft this year.

So far Moran has pitched to style, with a 3.00 ERA through 6 innings and striking out 11, but he has also walked 8 and allowed 4 unearned runs to score. Like with Raley, the 26 man roster for next season (most teams will use 13 pitchers and 13 batters, I assume) could allow a bad team to stash Moran to learn at the big league level until he meets the requirements to be sent to the minors with his new team.

Moises Gomez

Gomez is another minor league pitcher with potential, meaning we don’t focus on him as much as other prospects. He pitched quite well in 2019 as a 22 year old, posting a 2.91 ERA through 52.2 innings across both levels of Single-A with a 78/21 K/BB ratio.

He has struggled a bit in the Fall League, posting a 6.00 ERA through his first 9 innings. He has a 13/5 K/BB rate but has a .341 average against.

Thoughts

There is still a good chunk of baseball to be played in the Fall League. The big thing to keep an eye on will be Royce Lewis’ ability to keep up his torrid pace. If he does, the sky is the limit for him in 2020.

Seeing guys like Luke Raley and Jovani Moran perform (or not) will also be important, as it has a chance to alter 40-Man roster decisions before the Rule-5 Draft. Are the Twins going to be too afraid to lose another lefty reliever who can strike guys out, after letting Nick Anderson walk after the 2018 season? Do we have enough OF depth with Buxton’s injury status, or is Raley needed depth? The rest of the Fall League could make those decisions very easy or very difficult for the Twins front office.