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Royce Lewis Injury Update; Evaluating Potential Replacements

Royce Lewis is out at least through the end of the regular season, and it’s coin flip to see if he’ll be ready for October. What do the Twins do then?

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The latest update on Royce Lewis was good, but not great news. According to every Twins beat reporter on the planet, Lewis has been diagnosed with what Rocco termed a “Grade 1-plus” hamstring strain. It’s closer to a “moderate” strain than a “mild” one. So, what do all of these semantic words actually mean?

A Grade 1 strain generally takes one to two weeks to heal, while Grade 2 typically means more like one to months. With this injury falling somewhere in the middle, it’s essentially a coin flip to see if Royce will be ready by October 3rd. That means the Twins have to make contingency plans.

As it stands now, and assuming Carlos Correa is ready to play in the Wild Card round, the Twins would likely platoon Willi Castro and Kyle Farmer at third base. While Willi has been playing excellently since coming off the injured list, starting him every game of the playoffs somewhat diminishes the impact that he can have. Much of his value comes from his versatility, which he loses if he is simply your regular starting third baseman. There’s obviously no real way to replicate Royce’s production, but if you can keep Castro as an important bench player who plays the outfield in matchups unfavorable to Michael A. Taylor or Matt Wallner, your whole team is much better off.

The other big factor in any roster decision is Byron Buxton. After DH-ing for St. Paul on Thursday, he’s scheduled to do the same thing tonight. The Saints season ends tomorrow, so he’ll have one chance to see if he can play back-to-backs before returning to the Twins. At this point, it seems likely that he’ll be on the postseason roster, but it’s unclear what role he’ll have. If he’s not fully healthy, he might be reserved as a pinch hitter against lefties. If he’s doing better than expected, maybe he can start Game 1 in CF and see how his body responds. Or maybe he’s just back to being a regular DH.

In the playoffs, you need your nine best hitters in the lineup, full stop. Before Lewis’ injury, I don’t believe injured Byron Buxton was one of the nine against a right-handed starter. Now he definitively is. If Buxton takes that DH spot, to get your best hitters in the lineup, you need Jorge Polanco at third and Edouard Julien at second, which is less than ideal. Julien has been better at second than his reputation would suggest, but Polanco has been out of his depth at third. It may be that the Twins have to decide between the offense of Buxton or the defense of Castro, and it’s a tough choice to make.

But what if there was a third option? Contrary to popular belief, the Twins can add anyone who was in the organization on September 1st to replace an injured player. In this case, Royce Lewis. And the Twins happen to have a few high-profile minor leaguers and rising stars who could provide more offense than Castro or Farmer and potentially better defense than Polanco. It doesn’t solve the Buxton conundrum, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume he’s limited in some capacity.

To be clear, I think the Castro/Farmer platoon is still the most likely outcome, but the Twins have been in this position before, promoting Alex Kirilloff to play in the 2020 playoffs before having ever seen a pitch above Double-A. If they go that route, here are the top candidates.

Brooks Lee

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at Toronto Blue Jays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The man needs no introduction. The 8th overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, Lee quickly shot up prospects boards and is now a consensus top 20 prospect, ranking as high as 10th for Fangraphs. Lee is a jack-of-all-trades who has good contact skills, decent power, and defends very well. He’s the full package and may already be one of the Twins’ nine best hitters if added to the roster. Lee is a switch hitter, but he has hit significantly better against righties in the minors this year, posting a .846 OPS from the left side of the plate versus .608 from the right.

Lee is good enough that he’s likely to make his Twins debut at some point next season anyway, so you lose nothing by adding him to the roster a couple of months early. The main issue would be his lack of experience at third base. He’s been a shortstop his entire career and has played just seven games and 60 innings at the position in 2023. However, just like Royce Lewis, the Twins would be counting on his tremendous baseball instincts to pick up the position quickly.

Austin Martin

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins Photo Day Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

As the centerpiece in the return for Jose Berrios, Martin has had an up-and-down career since joining the Twins organization. Martin has always had good contact skills and plate discipline but has never shown much power. To try to remedy that, the Twins made some adjustments to his swing during the 2022 season, leading to an abject disaster with a .241/.368/.317 line in 92 games.

After a late start to his 2023 season due to rehabbing an elbow injury, Martin appears to have regained some of his prospect shine, putting together a .271/.395/.417 stat line in 57 games for St. Paul. He also stole 19 bases and hit 7 home runs, his most in any professional season in significantly fewer games. Martin is Rule 5 eligible after this season, making him an almost certain lock to be added to the 40-man roster come November.

The issue for Martin is that he has been plagued with defensive shortcomings throughout the minors. A former shortstop, he pivoted to playing primarily second base and center field and has looked significantly better. Unfortunately, he also hasn’t played third base since college, and given his defensive history, the Twins would be taking a big leap of faith to start him there in the playoffs. However, if Castro has to be the starting third baseman, Martin could be an ideal platoon partner with Michael A. Taylor, filling in Castro’s former role, with Martin having an .845 OPS against righties this year while Taylor has an .829 mark against lefties. If nothing else, Martin would be a valuable bench player to have as a runner or pinch hitter when you really need someone to put the ball in play.

Yunior Severino

Wichita Wind Surge v Amarillo Sod Poodles Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Here’s the good news. Severino has been primarily a third baseman this year. He has nine errors at the position in 62 games there but hasn’t committed one since July. He has incredible power and takes walks, putting up a .903 OPS this year between Double and Triple-A. The bad news: he strikes out A LOT. Like, Miguel Sano/Joey Gallo levels. 168 times in 118 games, good for a 33% K rate. But with a .275/.356/.547 batting line and 34 home runs, you can deal with the strikeouts.

Like Martin, Severino is eligible to be selected in this offseason’s Rule 5 draft, meaning he’s likely to be added to the 40-man roster thanks to his breakout this year. Severino is a switch hitter who has put up almost identical lines from each side of the plate and is the most likely out of anyone in this group to go on a tear and provide the Twins with an unexpected October spark. He’s much more hit-and-miss than Lee or Martin, but he has the potential to be a difference-maker.