Lewis' first homer keys Kernels comeback

Warm weather, maturation come into play for top Twins prospect

Royce Lewis racked up four home runs over 54 games during his first taste of pro ball. (Andrew Dodson/Cedar Rapids Kernels)

By Vincent Lara-Cinisomo / MiLB.com | April 13, 2018 12:29 AM

Last year's No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis made a strong pro debut and reasonably could have started his second year at Class A Advanced Fort Myers.

But the Twins returned him to Class A Cedar Rapids, where it's a bit colder to start the season. Lewis isn't complaining.

On Thursday, baseball's No. 20 prospect hit his first homer of 2018 -- a three-run bullet to left-center field -- to help the Kernels overcome a 4-0 deficit en route to a 9-5 win over the Chiefs at Dozer Park. Cedar Rapids has begun the season 6-0, matching its start in 2015.

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A Southern California product, Lewis first got to the Midwest last August. The temperatures have been much different there in April, though. Then again, the cold didn't bother Lewis on Thursday, especially because it was relatively balmy.

"At first it was tough, but today it got warmer," said Lewis, who hails from Aliso Viejo, Calif. "It was 60 or 70 degrees, felt a little like home."

The 18-year-old, who signed for a club-record draft bonus of $6.725 million, compiled a slash line of .279/.381/.407 a year ago between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Cedar Rapids. He played 54 games following the Draft, 18 with the Kernels.

Video: Lewis hits first homer of season

Lewis belted four homers after turning pro, but as a prep player power was not considered his calling card. He's out to change that perception.

"I do consider myself a home run hitter," the 6-foot-2, 188-pound infielder said. "People don't think so when they look at my high school numbers, but after talking to [Twins No. 4 prospect] Nick [Gordon] and what he said about how those big league balls fly and even the balls in the Minors fly a little bit, the potential is definitely here; it's just a showcase now. I mean, people think I can't play shortstop and I'm proving people wrong."

Lewis had plenty of help during the Kernels' latest rally. Sixth-ranked prospect Alex Kirilloff -- coming off a two-homer, six-RBI game Wednesday -- doubled, singled and scored a run, No. 11 Akil Baddoo tripled, singled, drove in two runs and scored while Mark Contreras added a double, a single and two RBIs.

Cedar Rapids, which currently boasts three of the organization's top 11 prospects, amazes Lewis.

"For sure, the talent is unreal," he said. "Watching these guys helps you elevate your game. It's so amazing to play with these guys, and as far as contributing, I've just been doing what I can to help."

Peoria jumped out to 4-0 lead against right-hander Jake Walsh, a 16th-round pick in 2017 from Florida Southern who had not lost as a pro coming into the the game. Cardinals No. 18 prospect Dylan Carlson doubled home a run in the second, and the Chiefs scored three times in the fourth on an RBI single by Elehuris Montero and a two-run single from Julio Rodriguez.

But Lewis' homer in the sixth made it 4-3, and Baddoo's two-run triple in the seventh put the Kernels ahead for good.

"I went through a stretch of hitting the ball right at people," Lewis said, "and right after the home run, I looked at [Cedar Rapids hitting coach Brian Dinkelman]."

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The progress Lewis has made owes a lot to the weight he put on in the offseason and his maturation as a hitter, according to Dinkelman.

"He's just becoming a good hitter," the coach said. "He's driving the ball on a line. At this point, he's learning how to hit. He's not trying to hit the ball out, he's just hitting it on a line and it carried out."

And Lewis is not in any rush to get to the next level.

"Not at all," he said. "I knew being 18 it would be a long process either way. Just making that jump last year to Cedar Rapids was big. As far as moving up, it's all the Minor Leagues to me. It's not a huge difference."

Left-hander Kevin Marnon (2-0) allowed a run on three hits while striking out five over 2 1/3 innings of relief to pick up the win. Righty Thomas St. Clair (0-1) gave up four runs -- three earned -- in one inning for the loss.

Vince Lara-Cinisomo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincelara. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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