Drayer: Mariners OF Kyle Lewis’ torrid start a reminder why he was a top pick
If April through August in the first year of the Mariners’ rebuild plan was about just getting through while perhaps making a find or two for the future, the reward at the end of an often tough road is the chance to peek at the future in September.
After three days of seeing one key piece to the Mariners’ future in action, two words come to mind: More please.
On Thursday night at T-Mobile Park, rookie Kyle Lewis did something only one other player in MLB history has done by homering in his third straight game to start his MLB career.
Lewis’ first three games have been a remarkable continuation of a story that easily could have ended three years ago in Everett with his knee exploding in a collision at home plate just 30 games into his professional career. Following surgery, his next two years would be about rehab, return, stops and starts in his return and eventually a second surgery to clean up scar tissue and a bone spur. A tough path for any player, let alone a first-round pick eager and perhaps anxious to get his career started.
In Lewis’ time down with injury, his stock dropped in the eyes of those who rank prospects. The arrivals of other top-level prospects into the Mariners’ farm system last offseason from trades by Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto dropped Lewis even further.
More important than ranking, however, was health, and in 2019 Lewis was finally able to put the knee injury behind him. A normal offseason was followed by his first spring training and his first full season in the minors without restrictions.
Lewis had been targeted by the Mariners for a September call-up before the season began, and he stayed healthy and showed progress throughout the season with Double-A Arkansas, so the move was made. Whether this is a get-your-feet-wet experience or something more remains to seen, but for now Lewis represents what we could see in the Mariners’ future. This might perhaps be a reminder, too, that the young players Dipoto has accumulated to form a new core of prospects are a different level of young players than we have seen in the past.
When Lewis stepped to the plate for the first time in his big league debut it was a special and rare moment in recent Mariners history: Lewis became just the fourth position player who was a top pick by the Mariners to make his debut with the team in the 2000s. While they have been few and far between, Lewis has looked every bit the part of a No. 1 pick in his three games with the Mariners.
From his five hits with plus-exit velocity, to his play in the field (once he got his bearings in the new park), to his curtain call cap tip after his first home run, to his pre- and post-game interviews, Lewis has left no doubt that he is ready for this moment.
“He’s not overthinking, he’s in the moment,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s there. He’s playing the game, he’s trusting his ability. He looks very comfortable, like he has been here for a long time.”
How many homers can he hit?
Kyle Lewis has played in three #MLB games and he's now homered in each of them.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 13, 2019
There is a reason why Lewis was an early first-round pick in 2016. If it was lost by the general baseball population in his injured seasons, it wasn’t by those who saw him up close. The success he is having now was foreseen by those who had played with or against him. When fellow recent Mariners call-up Justin Dunn was asked during spring training who the best player he faced while pitching for Boston College was, he said there were two: Dunn’s old teammate, Mets rookie sensation Pete Alonso, and his new one, Kyle Lewis.
“Kyle, when he’s healthy, he’s special,” Dunn said. “I know what he is capable of doing. When he hits the ball, he hits it hard. Everywhere he hits it.”
Dunn and Lewis were also opponents in the Cape Cod League, the premier summer league for college players, in 2015. Lewis stood out then, too.
“That summer in the Cape? He was the best player in the country,” Dunn said, “and he’s back. What I am seeing now is the same Kyle I saw in the Cape.”
That Kyle now has three home runs, a double and a single in his first three big league games. He pulled his team out of two no-hitters with two of the home runs, and his third put him a triple away from the cycle on Thursday.
Making baseball history with three homers in your first three MLB games would seem like heady stuff, but Lewis takes it one day at a time, with a purpose.
“Every day is going to be different, every day brings a different challenge in itself,” Lewis said. “Developing the humility in that, every day is going to be different, you have to take it in stride. I had no expectations for what this was going to be like. I’m just gong to give it my best shot.”
Three games is the smallest of sample sizes, and if Lewis can keep it in perspective, so should we. The start to his big league journey has been a fun ride with three days of must-see at-bats. What comes next? We shall see, but for now Lewis is providing what we hoped to see in September.