July 22, 2024

Twins prospect Brooks Lee replaces injured Royce Lewis with strong debut in loss to Tigers


MINNEAPOLIS — On the cusp of reaching the big leagues, Brooks Lee finally heard the words he had always dreamed of on Wednesday afternoon following a week full of close calls.

Working in the batting cage at Triple-A St. Paul, the Minnesota Twins’ top major-league-ready prospect was pulled to attend a team meeting.

Lee, who twice in the previous five days was the source of rampant speculation following potential injuries to key players, immediately wondered what he and his teammates had done to draw the ire of the St. Paul coaching staff.

But once he walked into the clubhouse, it didn’t take Lee long to realize he was headed for the big leagues to make his debut. With Twins star Royce Lewis headed for the 10-day injured list with a right adductor strain, the club promoted Lee, the No. 13-ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

The injury to Lewis, a Grade 2 right adductor strain that is expected to keep him out at least through the All-Star break, created enough of a playing time vacuum to promote Lee, who was hitting .329/.394/.635 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in 94 plate appearances.

“He’s put himself on the map very quickly,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We feel like he’s ready for this challenge. Missing Royce will be difficult, but we get to bring in a Brooks Lee to come in and play most days. … We’ve handled (injuries) well. But we’ve handled it well because we have a number of guys who can step in. This is the latest example of that. Now it’s Brooks’ turn to come in and contribute.”

Lee followed the plan and instantly contributed two singles and an RBI, though it wasn’t enough as the Twins fell 9-2 to the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. But a game full of standing ovations and a warm reception from the home crowd gave Lee, the team’s 2022 first-round draft pick, a night he’ll never forget.

Before Lee’s first at-bat, a five-pitch strikeout, plate umpire Alex MacKay wiped down the dish and stepped out from behind the plate to allow the crowd of 25,053 a chance to appreciate the prospect’s debut.

“It was cool,” Lee said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I thought I was just going to go up there and zone out. When he did that I was like, ‘Let’s go. That’s awesome.’ … I didn’t even know how to act. I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do right now.’ It was super special and that’s just what the Minnesota fans are like. I’m just so happy to be playing in front of them.”

Back in spring training, Lee playing in front of a Target Field crowd during the 2024 season seemed plausible.

Lee handled his previous two pro seasons with aplomb, soaring through the farm system and hitting every step of the way. Though the Twins possessed ample infield depth, most in the organization suggested Lee wouldn’t need much more seasoning. The biggest component to a call-up was that there needed to be a situation that would provide enough consistent at-bats to merit a promotion.

But then Lee suffered a back injury in spring training that revealed a herniated disc. That injury kept him out of action until May 20, which meant he missed a key opportunity to step in for Lewis after he suffered a severe quad strain on Opening Day.

Regardless, Lee shook off his lengthy absence and immediately began to hit once he started playing in minor-league games. Producing a combined .997 OPS over three levels, Lee once again demonstrated his readiness.

Then the close calls began to occur.

Last Thursday, Carlos Correa’s hand went numb after a pitch hit him on the right wrist. Correa’s reaction suggested a potentially severe injury, which lit up the internet with suggestions Lee would replace the star shortstop. Thirty minutes later, Correa’s X-ray revealed only a bruise and he didn’t miss a game.

Lee’s phone rang again Tuesday when Lewis exited in the sixth inning with his injury. But despite the hoopla, Lee wasn’t removed from St. Paul’s game and went to bed not knowing what Wednesday held even as Lewis was headed for an MRI and additional testing.

“I would be lying if I said it was easy,” Lee said. “I knew at some point (a promotion) would happen, but it’s a wave of emotion all the time. It’s definitely a mental test, but I think I’m mentally tough.”

Lee should have an opportunity to prove what he’s made of with Lewis out of the lineup. Though Baldelli praised Lee’s ability to move around the infield, the bulk of his at-bats are expected to come while he plays third base. The Twins also want the 23-year-old infielder from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to play consistently.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Lee said. “I’m just so happy.”

Lee is on the other end of the spectrum from Lewis, who was placed on the IL for the fifth time in his young career. Earlier this season, Lewis missed 58 games with his quad injury, returning on June 4 in New York.

Though Lewis said he wasn’t optimistic and feared the worst late Tuesday, the Twins suggested the injury isn’t nearly as devastating as several of his previous ones. The team plans to re-evaluate Lewis after the All-Star break, which means he’ll have at least the next 17 days off. There’s hope he could return before the month is out.

Still, that’s little consolation to Lewis, who helped turn the Twins offense into a juggernaut since returning. Lewis homered nine times in 87 at-bats and helped the group produce top-five numbers.

That two leg injuries occurred after Lewis dedicated his offseason regimen to strengthening the muscles in his legs only makes the situation more difficult.

“It’s just disappointing for him,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “We try to dissect it. We try to figure it out. We don’t always have answers. This kid works hard. He puts himself in a great spot, he prepares, he trains. He’s going to continue to evaluate that as he gets through the course of his career. We’re going to continue to evaluate it, too, but ultimately he dealt with a pretty significant quad strain and now dealing with this. It’s probably something that he’s just going to need to navigate through for the rest of the season.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

‘The future is now’ as Brooks Lee joins Twins’ lineup with prospect stock rising

 (Photo of Brooks Lee: David Berding / Getty Images)





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