As Royce Lewis climbs the ranks in professional baseball, Class A Cedar Rapids manager Toby Gardenhire is confident the 19-year-old's cheeky smile and sunny disposition will follow him wherever he goes.
Although that side of him has been on full display lately, it wasn't there at the beginning. The pressure and expectations of his first full season in the Minor Leagues were weighing on him, but a meeting with his skipper about two weeks ago seems to have calmed him down.
"It gets overwhelming, all this stuff," Gardenhire said of the top Twins prospect, who tied his career high with four RBIs, homering and scoring twice in the Kernels' 12-4 drubbing of Peoria on Friday at Perfect Game Field. "Everyone wants his autograph, he's got the signing bonus and he feels like he should be the best player no matter where he goes, no matter what the situation is.
Video: Lewis smacks solo shot for Cedar Rapids
"At some point, you just have to pump the breaks and just have fun and be who you are. That's kind of what I've talked him about and he's kind of embraced it a little bit. Just have fun and play and be Royce Lewis. Be the guy that has all the tools, is fun to watch and enjoys being on the baseball field. If he does that, he'll be fine."
That reinvigorated, relaxed approach is showing in his numbers, too. He went 3-for-5 to boost his average to .298 and, since walloping a grand slam on his 19th birthday on June 5 to set his career high for RBIs, is hitting .333 with three homers, five doubles and 10 RBIs in 11 games.
Lewis launched a solo shot over the left-center field fence on a 1-2 offering from Peoria starter Evan Guillory in the first inning. After slugging four roundtrippers last season, the California native has three in his last 10 games.
Gameday box score
"I think he's going to hit for power someday, he'll hit for power eventually," said Gardenhire, the son of Tigers manager and former Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire. "He can hit the ball a long way in [batting practice] and he can drive the ball. He's got really good hand-eye coordination. Lately, he's been staying through the ball better and staying down with his legs better and he's staying with his hands, which is something we talked to him about. Because a lot of young kids have the tendency to try and lift the ball up, and that causes you to slow down and miss a lot of pitches. If you stay through, like he's doing now, he doesn't miss as many."
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound shortstop has been guided along with a diligent weight room plan this season, Gardenhire said. With already impressive bat speed, adding brawn should only further tap his power.
"I think he can be a pretty big guy," Gardenhire said. "He's got the frame to be a pretty big, strong guy. Just staying athletic while he keeps getting stronger, that's going to be pretty big, too."
After striking out in his next at-bat, the top overall pick in last year's Draft flicked a single to left on an 0-2 pitch to plate a pair of runs in the fourth. He added an RBI with another base hit to left in the fifth.
The shortstop earned a callup to the Midwest League last season after posting a .271/.390/.414 slash line in 36 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The brief stint with Cedar Rapids last summer was a major boost to Lewis' quick adjustment to full-season ball, especially in the cold and unfriendly hitter parks in the MWL.
"The cold stuff, that's real," Gardenhire said. "He'd never seen snow before. ... We have a couple of guys that have never seen snow at all and we're playing games in 30 degrees and freezing out there. It's something that all those guys are going to have to learn to do, but for him to start showing some power stuff like that, it's fun to watch."
MLB Pipeline lauds Lewis for his athleticism on both sides of the plate and his baseball IQ. And as the season's progressed, the first-year manager has seen a well-rounded player with those eye-popping tools.
"He's a freak athlete," Gardenhire said. "He can really run and he can really jump. He's got a great arm. He's got all the skills in the world as far as baseball skills go. Just finding a way to hone those things in. I mean, he just turned 19 years old, he's finding a way to hone those things in and making him the best player he can be, that's going to make him a really good big league player. The bat speed and all that stuff is there, it's just a matter of fine-tuning all that stuff. He's done a nice job."
Jose Miranda was 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs, Robby Rinn thumped a solo shot and Trey Cabbage was 2-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored for the Kernels.
Cardinals No. 26 prospect Scott Hurst unloaded a solo homer and Bryce Denton was 3-for-4 with an RBI for Peoria.