Twins Found Reasons To Make Royce Lewis No. 1 Overall Pick

Royce Lewis (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

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The drama went all the way down to the last minute. As the first round started and MLB Network started to roll from the draft show preview, into the draft proper, the first overall pick was still an unknown.

But with the clock passing 7 p.m. ET and the show about to start, Minnesota Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine finally had their man, and the rest of the first round could finally fall into place.

Minnesota took the top prep hitter available in Royce Lewis to kick-start Monday's first day of the 2017 MLB draft, one that started with three consecutive high school players.

The Reds followed the Twins at No. 2 overall with another Los Angeles-area prep, righthander/shortstop Hunter Greene, the top-ranked player on the BA 500. Then San Diego drafted North Carolina prep lefty MacKenzie Gore. Lewis and Greene became the first pair of L.A.-area preps to be drafted 1-2 in draft history.

But it was Lewis, No. 5 on the BA 500, who goes down in history as the first pick. He's been on the amateur baseball scene for years, having been MVP of Southern California's Trinity League in both his sophomore and junior seasons as well as this spring. Lewis has a chance to stay at shortstop, premium speed, power potential and a long track record, including hitting .500 with eight walks and no strikeouts for USA Baseball's 18U national team last fall.

"I feel like I haven't grown into my man strength yet," Lewis said in describing himself to reporters on a conference call, "but you use speed for everything: defensively, offensively, and it helps with range. (Speed is) my favorite . . . because it never leaves you."

The Twins long considered a deep group of players for the first selection and narrowed it late to Lewis and Brendan McKay, the College Player of the Year out of Louisville. The final numbers of what Lewis' signing bonus will be were not yet known, but clearly the Twins had a comfort level of signing Lewis, likely creating significant room by drafting fourth-year Mississippi State junior Brent Rooker with the 35th pick.

While club officials said prior to the draft that signability would play a "significant role," according to one, in who went 1-1, scouting director Sean Johnson cited Lewis' talent first and foremost. In a draft class with little separation between top prospects, the Twins found reasons to put Lewis No. 1.

"Our group loved everything about Royce," Johnson said. "He's got a real change to be a dynamic five-tool player. One thing that separated Royce in our room, beyond his tools, was his high character, instincts and baseball makeup.

"He's one of the best 'makeup' players I've had the chance to scout. He's got a great personality, and he's a natural leader."

Lewis said all of his role models have played shortstop and hopes to stay there, but there are scouts who see center field as his best future position. Scouts also were split on several key two-way players in this year's draft class, and both Greene and McKay—the two most prominent two-way players—will get a chance to both hit and pitch as pros, at least early in their career. The Reds were expected to let Greene DH in Rookie ball while building his arm back up, as he has not pitched in a game since April.

"There have been discussions before about it and it was always 'We'd love to do both,'" Greene told reporters on a post-draft conference call. "We still haven't talked about it but I'm excited to be with this ball club and whatever they have in mind for me, I'm excited to do."

Similarly, the Rays will let McKay DH and pitch after his college season is over. The all-time strikeouts leader in Louisville history, McKay was announced as a first baseman at the podium by commissioner Rob Manfred, but in a conference call, he said he'd get a chance to both hit and pitch as a pro.

"If a guy can figure out how to handle his arm and his body and not get worn down and stay healthy, it could add a whole new level in having two-guys-in-one that can do both," McKay said. "The (Rays have) said we're going to experiment with it and see if it's a feasible thing to do."

McKay confirmed that there had been negotiations with the Twins about being the No. 1 selection. "They had offered a number that we felt we could get a better offer from another team or what not," he said. "It ultimately came down to, another team was able to give a better offer, so we went with that. I'm happy the ways things worked out. You got a good deal and you got a great organization to work with."

Gore at No. 3 and Vanderbilt's Kyle Wright, to the Braves at No. 5, were ultimately the players who did separate themselves a bit from the rest of the draft class, and they went in the first five picks. Thereafter, the first round had several storylines develop.

• Virginia and North Carolina had two players apiece picked in the first round. Cavaliers teammates Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley went back-to-back at picks seven and eight overall, with the Diamondbacks taking Smith, the first baseman with power and plate discipline, and the Phillies taking outfielder Haseley, who will finally get to give up pitching.

The Tar Heels saw ace righty J.B. Bukauskas fall a bit; the No. 6 overall player on the BA 500 fell to Houston with the No. 15 pick, a good fit for the slider-heavy righthander considering Houston's big league staff, which ranks last in the majors in fastball usage. Then Tar Heels shortstop Logan Warmoth went seven picks later as the No. 22 overall pick to the Blue Jays.

Lexington, N.C., prep outfielder Austin Beck, drafted sixth overall by the Athletics, joined Bukauskas, Warmoth and Gore to give the state of North Carolina four first-round picks, tying a state record. Tar Heels outfielder Brian Miller just missed joining them, being picked by the Marlins with the 36th overall selection.

Vanderbilt joined the ACC schools in have two first-round picks in Wright and outfielder Jeren Kendall, who wound up going at No. 23 overall to the Dodgers.

• The most controversial pick of the first round was Houston lefthander Seth Romero, whom the Nationals selected with the 25th overall pick. Romero ranked No. 27 on the BA 500 and likely would have ranked higher had he not been kicked off Houston's team for repeated violations of team rules. Those were detailed in the Houston Chronicle as including failing three drug tests, breaking curfew and being photographed holding a bong while in full uniform in late March.

Nevertheless, the Nationals popped Romero in the first round on a night when manager Dusty Baker said the team's big league bullpen needed help "bad." Romero threw 48.2 innings for Houston in the spring and has strong present stuff, with a 93-96 mph fastball and a swing-and-miss slider that could be effective in the Nationals' bullpen, perhaps this season.

• The surprise in the other direction was the Yankees' selection of South Carolina righthander Clarke Schmidt, noted for his excellent makeup but also having had an elbow injury in May that required Tommy John surgery. The Yankees then paired Schmidt with second-round prep righthander Matt Sauer with the 54th overall pick. It's expected Schmidt's bonus will be below the pick value at No. 16 ($3,458,600) while Sauer's will be significantly above the value at pick 54 ($1,236,000).