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Drayer: Mariners’ Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis already plans to make another jump next year

Kyle Lewis became the fourth Mariners player to win AL Rookie of the Year on Monday. (AP)

The Mariners’ Kyle Lewis ended 2020 the way he began it – with an exclamation point.

Kyle Lewis becomes fourth Mariners player to win AL Rookie of the Year

After picking up Rookie of the Year honors from a number of publications and organizations, the big one – the one that is noted on Baseball Reference pages and Hall of Fame plaques – is safely in Lewis’ possession after Hall of Famer and 1982 ROY winner Cal Ripken Jr. made the announcement on the MLB Network (watch here).

Watching from his home, Lewis beamed and pumped both fists in the air, a big “I did it!” as family and friends surrounded him.

“It means a lot seeing my family,” he said of the moment afterwards in a call with members of the media. “The road, the highs and lows of the minor leagues, the highs and lows of the major leagues. The success and the struggle with injury. When you get these milestone moments I think there is an overwhelming rush of emotion sometimes. My family was around, seeing them so proud, so nervous watching the TV. It was a lot of those things piled up.”

As it would prove, Lewis’ family had little to be nervous about with the voting unanimous, his name listed first on all 30 BBWAA ballots (two from each American League city). For his part, when award talk was circulating during the season and in recent weeks, Lewis was able to keep the nerves at bay. That came to an end on Monday.

“Today got pretty nerve-wracking,” he admitted. “Once 4 o’clock hit, I got pretty nervous. I couldn’t eat. I was kind of on edge. I think today is when it really hit me.”

Lewis becomes the fourth Mariner in team history to be voted AL Rookie of the Year, joining Alvin Davis (1984), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) and Ichiro (2001). Among his current peers, Lewis led all American League rookies in FanGraphs WAR (1.7), runs scored (37), walks (34), total bases (90), times on base (88), on-base percentage (.364), slugging percentage (.437), home runs (tied for first with 11) and OPS (.801).

The award, let alone Lewis’ complete rookie season, was a long time coming. His arrival date to the majors was delayed by a horrific knee injury that left most believing the skills of the former first-rounder (11th pick overall in 2016) would be diminished after just 30 games into his first professional season. Lewis always believed he would find a way back but admitted there was doubt, there were dark days, but hard work led the way on his path back, a path that he values highly.

“I think it just teaches so much respect and I just ultimately appreciate it and respect it,” he said. “It’s definitely weird, it’s not a conventional path but I think there is a lot of lesson in that and I try to appreciate that. Keep chipping away, put your head down and work as hard as you can.”

Lewis followed up an eye-opening first cup of coffee in 2019 by becoming the story of spring training – his second spring training with the club – hitting a blistering .407 and 1.337 OPS before COVID shut baseball down. Having no idea when he would be able to start his rookie season, Lewis turned his focus to improving his game, putting together a full schedule of work with speed and strength coaches.

When baseball resumed, Lewis was noticeably bigger, stronger and was moving so well that Mariners manager Scott Servais decided to put him back in center field. Following a strong summer camp he opened his 2020 season by taking Justin Verlander deep in his first at-bat of the season.

Sixty games later, with ROY now permanently attached to his name, mission has been accomplished.

“I wanted to be more consistent with my at-bats,” he said of his 2020 goals. “I wanted to have consistently good at-bats. Be comfortable working deep in counts, be comfortable putting the ball in play, getting hits, moving the ball around to help the team, and then I wanted to make another jump defensively to get back to the level I felt like I could play at. I feel like I definitely accomplished that. Defensively, now I think there is another level I can go to next year. I’ve already set my sights forward. I think I’ve accomplished a lot of my goals this year. Out of the games we did play I was able to be available for all of those and that gave me a lot of info moving into next year.”

Like teammates J.P. Crawford and Evan White, who won Gold Gloves last week, Lewis is already back at work preparing for 2021. He once again has a team of coaches to work with and hopes to add arm strength, and will work on refining things in the batter’s box and better utilizing the information that is available to him as a big leaguer. He believes a longer season could turn into something even better than his first, which led to him being named the top rookie in the league.

“I definitely would have liked to just have had more games,” he said, admitting that ROY was indeed a goal of sorts for him. “I always feel like if I am able to play a full slate of games my talent will start to shine through and I will have some hot stretches where I am able to do some special things on the baseball field.

“Naturally I thought I had another hot streak in me coming so I kind of felt like it would be cool to see what that looked like, but that will be there for next year.”

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

Further reading: From overlooked to ‘the guy,’ Kyle Lewis still trending up