Mariners draft Baseball America player of the year Kyle Lewis
During spring training, Mariners director of amateur scouting Tom McNamara walked into general manager Jerry Dipoto’s office to talk about Kyle Lewis, a power-hitting outfielder out of small Mercer University whom he believed to be the best college player in the country.
“He started rolling through him and he said, ‘He’s not going to be be there’ (when the Mariners make their first-round MLB Draft pick) and just dejectedly put his head down and started to walk out,” Dipoto recalled on Thursday evening. “I said, ‘Mac, the draft’s a funny thing.'”
Indeed it is.
Lewis was available when it was the Mariners’ turn to pick at No. 11 overall in the first round, and they did not pass up on the opportunity to add Baseball America’s player of the year.
A 6-foot-4, 210-pound outfielder from Snellville, Ga., Lewis hit .395 with 20 home runs – homering once every 11.2 at-bats – and 72 RBIs as a junior this spring with the Bears to take the Baseball America honor.
“If somebody would have told me this morning that Kyle Lewis was our guy, I would have jumped on it,” McNamara said.
Lewis’ tools and size have drawn him comparisons to a previous Mariners first-round pick: Adam Jones, who has been a perennial All-Star candidate for Baltimore while utilizing a powerful right-handed stroke and playing a skilled center field.
“I feel like I’m a complete player,” Lewis said on a conference call with members of the local media. “I think I offer a package of power and speed and being able to hit for average … and being a plus defender. I think I provide the team with impact in a number of ways.”
Some have considered Lewis to be a late bloomer, as he didn’t turn his focus to baseball until his senior year of high school. That was the first year he played summer ball, and he went undrafted going into college. Lewis said that works to his advantage.
“I think you’re scratching the surface of what I have in the tank,” he said from Atlanta.
The Mariners were more than happy to get Lewis at No. 11, especially after the White Sox picked Miami catcher Zack Collins at No. 10.
ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Lewis eighth on his MLB Draft board and had this scouting report on him: “Thirty-homer potential, but someone is going to have to kill his leg kick and quiet down his approach to get that power to play.”
MLB.com draft expert Jim Callis called the Mariners’ pick of Lewis “a steal” and said he personally would have drafted Lewis with the No. 1 overall pick.
“I think it’s the best combination of ceiling and floor in this draft. Even if he doesn’t stay in center field, that power profiles so well on the corner,” Callis wrote.
Just as much as his talent, the Mariners are impressed with Lewis’ personality and willingness to make adjustments.
“He’s got to work to do. He knows he does, but he’s eager to get going. That was kind of neat, his response when we called him (after the selection) … I kinda like his answer: ‘I’m ready to go,'” McNamara said. “We feel good about the person and the work ethic. … He’s got aptitude for baseball, he loves the game and he’s got talent. It’s a nice combination.”
Lewis had a strong sophomore year with Mercer as well, hitting .367 with 17 homers and a .677 slugging percentage. He followed that up with a successful season against top competition in the wood-bat Cape Cod summer league, hitting .300 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs for Orleans. That performance helped dispel some doubt about his potential because he faced lesser competition playing in the Southern Conference with Mercer.
“That was a huge opportunity for me to go out and play against elite competition and have a lot of success,” Lewis said of his Cape Cod experience. “That gave me a lot of confidence, knowing I could go out and handle the wood bat and hit for a high average and continue to hit for power and just be that complete guy, even at the highest level.”
McNamara said the Mariners started scouting Lewis during the Cape Cod season, knowing that plenty of questions would come during draft time regarding the competition he saw at Mercer.
Wrote Callis: “I think the concerns about quality of competition he faced at Mercer are overblown, because what more could this guy do? He stood out in the Cape Cod League – a showcase for top college prospects – and he dominated the Southern Conference the last two years. I’m all in.”
Lewis has power to all fields, but like many sluggers he is prone to striking out (48 Ks in 223 at-bats in 2016). That is due in part to a high leg kick that will almost assuredly be addressed early on in his minor-league career.
Though Lewis played center field in college, he projects as a right fielder in the pros, especially considering he possesses a strong arm and isn’t particularly known for his speed. That being said, McNamara expects he will get a chance to play center field first in the minor leagues.
“I think he can play center field,” McNamara said. “He was pretty good in college. … I think he deserves the right to give it a shot in center field. We like his bat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he can stick in center field.”