Before last week’s Major League Baseball Draft, ESPN Analyst Keith Law predicted that Hunter Greene would not be the top overall pick. The 17-year-old Greene made the cover of Sports Illustrated in May in the featured cover story, “Hunter Greene is Exactly What Baseball Needs.”
“I think not,” Law told me during a visit to Minneapolis last month when asked if Hunter Greene would be picked by the Twins — Minnesota had the top pick. “He’s a great kid. He’s not a finished product as a pitcher,” observed Law, adding that Greene not having a good breaking ball “might scare the Twins.”
Turns out it was 18-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis, not Greene, who the Twins confirmed they’d had in their sights since last fall. The 6’-1” player rated tops by MLB.com in the June 12 draft became the first overall pick by the Twins since Joe Mauer in 2001, and Greene was second pick by Cincinnati.
Lewis was picked for “his ability to play the game — he can run and thro
w and hit for power,” Twins Scouting Director Sean Johnson said after the media horde disbursed. Also working in his favor was “his character and personality, his work ethic — he’s much focused. He has a growth mindset. He knows he has to get better. We think we have the right support in place now to keep him on track.”
During a draft night conference call, the MSR asked Lewis a couple of questions. He once hit a home run in Chicago’s Wrigley Park — did that indicate his hitting prowess? “I just turned 18 and going into my man-strength,” the young man responded. “I have a lot of potential not even tapped into yet.”
“There are stronger shortstops at the major league level,” noted Minnesota Executive VP Derek Falvey outside the war room shortly after the Lewis selection, “that can drive the ball all over the ballpark.”
It’s his overall presence, added the Twins’ top baseball front office guy. “He will be a leader the second he steps on the field. The baseball will take care of itself.”
“We know we got the best guy on our board,” said Minnesota President Dave St. Peter, who stood just outside the media horde perimeter.
Just before he returned to the draft bunker, Falvey told me, “What stands out [about Lewis is that] he cares so deeply about being a good teammate, a good leader. That translates into baseball ability. He has great baseball ability, too.”
Said Johnson of his first overall draft, “As director, I try to gauge the mood of the room. Ultimately it was a group decision. Lewis had been my favorite guy for a lot of months. To finally get him was great. Our room wanted him, and we feel good about it.”
Asked if he had any worries that his input would be overruled, Johnson said that picking the right one was instead tops on his worry list. “Are you picking the right guy? You don’t always know,” he admitted. “That is the pressure of [picking] one, the chances of being haunted. If whoever went behind us is better, then that will always be talked about.
“If we took [Mark] Prior instead of Mauer, this building [the new Twins stadium] might not be here,” recalled Johnson of the last time Minnesota picked first, when the Metrodome was the team’s home. “It can make a big difference for your franchise.”
The Twins are hoping that lightening will again strike positively. “I’m happy to be a part of it,” concluded Johnson.
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Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org