Dipoto: Kyle Lewis developing into leader, special player for Mariners
Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis, a former first-round pick, turned a lot of heads when he made his MLB debut last season, as he hit a home run in each of his first three games, becoming just the second player in MLB history to achieve that feat.
2020 was set to be Lewis’ first full season with the big-league club, but COVID-19 delayed the start of the season and now Lewis and company will play in just 60 games this year. But even with a shortened season, Lewis is focused on achieving the same goals he had for a full season.
“I try to win every game and help the team win and if I can, try to make an impact and then be healthy, be strong and I feel like if I take care of those things, I feel like we’ve got a good chance at the end of the season to be successful and for me personally to have a successful season,” he told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant on Wednesday. “So I always grade it on health and then I grade it on my ability to impact the game. Am I helping the team win each and every day? Am I showing up and being a professional? I stick to those goals and keep them at the forefront.”
So far at the Mariners’ summer camp practices, Lewis has been showing up and is impressing. In a simulated game against reliever Austin Adams, Lewis struck out on three pitches in his first at bat. His next time up, however, Lewis got the better of his teammate, driving the first pitch he saw over the wall in right-center field.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 8, 2020
General manager Jerry Dipoto, who spoke to Danny and Gallant just before Lewis did, said that the home run was extremely impressive.
“Yesterday with Kyle Lewis, who you guys have seen hits the ball as hard as anybody, it sounded like a cannon was going off,” Dipoto said. “… The empty stadium does create an echo with the big bangs off the bat and it’s one of those if you’re not looking, you snap your head around like ‘who hit that?'”
Lewis was the first pick that Dipoto ever made as Mariners GM and it seemed like a slam dunk at the time. He was the Golden Spikes winner as the best college player in the country, and when he was available at No. 11 in 2016, the Mariners jumped at the opportunity to take him. And while Lewis has looked impressive in camp thus far and slugged six home runs in a very short time last September, it was never a sure thing his pro career would take off due to some very bad luck in the minors.
“He was a center fielder with huge power who could really run and was super athletic and we felt super fortunate that he got to our pick at No. 11 and then shortly thereafter he experienced what we all know was traumatic. Three different knee injuries that resulted in multiple surgeries,” Dipoto said. “Over the last three years – and I thought about this a lot yesterday because he looks fantastic the way he’s running around the outfield, especially – he has, each month since he returned to the field, gained more confidence in himself and his body and how it works and he looks every bit the athlete that he was in 2016. He’s in great shape.”
The Mariners have embraced letting younger players play in the majors, and Lewis figures to get a ton of playing time in the outfield in 2020, especially with starting right fielder Mitch Haniger recovering from two surgeries. Heading into the 60-game season, Dipoto says Lewis is developing both as a player but as a strong presence in the clubhouse.
“No one has ever questioned his power potential – that we’ve seen play out in real time – but now we’re starting to see a confident, multi-skilled, diverse baseball player and sometimes that’s been evident and sometimes you don’t see that kind of self confidence in Kyle,” he said. “And my observation from spring training, the first go around back in February and March and now, is he knows that he is a complete player that can do all these things and do them regularly and you can see it in the way he carries himself and how he’s running around in a very different way, including the way he interacts with his teammates and the coaches.”
The injuries and surgeries knocked Lewis down prospect lists, shown now by his status as Seattle’s No. 10 prospect on MLB Pipeline when he was the team’s top prospect for quite some time early on, but Dipoto thinks sky is the limit for the young outfielder.
“I think Kyle has the potential to be an All Star-type player and he also has a chance to be a real leading voice in our clubhouse,” he said. “He’s such a sharp guy and he’s so well spoken and he’s so well respected by his teammates and I don’t want to use the tired phrase ‘he’s a special player’ but he really is a special player and special person and fits us so well and we couldn’t be more excited about where he is in his progression. And you know there’s going to be some bumps in the road, but at that same time we know that the height of what he can become is very real.”