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2019 Mariners Exit Interview: Kyle Lewis

can this new resource help solve the mariners’ energy crisis?

Seattle Mariners v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

[Kyle Lewis shows up for his exit interview]

[He waits patiently outside the door until he decides to finally rip it off its hinges and chuck it through the windows of his various haters]

[Tory Lanez’s “Drip Drip Drip” blasts from a boom box perched atop Lewis’ shoulder, undoubtedly a positive addition to his off-season workout regimen]

[Lewis roams around the office and finds the longest-tenured employees, making sure to grab the chairs from under them right as they’re about to get comfortable. He then makes his way to the office kitchen and examines the coffee pot, complete with a wide array of fix-ins]

LEWIS (to nobody in particular): Couple things, Splenda is TERRRRRRIBLE for you! Sugar in the Raw, aight. Dairy-based creamer?!?! TERRRRRRIBLE for you! Drink some green tea, man!

[As the rest of the office tries to recover from being alpha’d so viciously hard by one of the new guys, Lewis swaggers into his exit interview and slides his CV across the table.]

It’s…it’s just this video?

Lewis has made his point. In a work environment that’s lacked youthful exuberance for several years, the 24-year-old has ushered in the early days of a culture shift. Along with other new hires like J.P. Crawford, Shed Long, Justin Dunn, and Justus Sheffield, Lewis headlined a group of first-year Mariners hoping to restore the brand. Unlike those four though, Lewis has spent his whole working life in the Mariners’ system, climbing aboard as Jerry Dipoto’s first draft pick in Seattle.

By now most of us are familiar with Lewis’ journey to the big leagues, which is the type of situation they invented the word “arduous” for. His mere arrival in the majors – not to mention his marvelous and immediate takeover of the Cincinnati Reds – helps us to forget the early detours on Lewis’ redemption arc. Coming off the 2016 knee surgery, Lewis failed to clear 100 wRC+ in either 2017 or ’18, seasons he spent in High-A Modesto and Double-A Arkansas. The Lewis we saw in 2019, who repeated Double-A before taking center stage in Seattle, seems to be more indicative of the type of hitter he was pre-injury.

Photo courtesy of Mariners Report/Twitter
MiLB / Everett Aquasox

In 122 games this season with the Travelers (just 12 less than he played in the previous two seasons combined), Lewis got back up to a 109 wRC+ and .263 batting average, both the highest clips of his post-ACL career. The bombastic power we saw in his September call-up was lurking in the minors as well, it was just under Dickey-Stephens Park’s suppressive lid. In 63 road games, Lewis hit nine home runs and rocked a slugging percentage area codes away from his one in Arkansas.

Kyle Lewis 2019 Double-A Splits

Location Games AB Hits 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Location Games AB Hits 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Home 59 209 41 6 2 19 .196 .282 .273
Away 63 248 79 19 9 43 .319 .392 .504

While his stint with the 2019 Mariners lasted just 18 games, Lewis displayed the kind of talent that made him a Golden Spikes winner and top-ten draft pick. Six home runs, and three in his first three games, is sexy, but so too are the varied location of his hits. 10 of his 19 hits went to the opposite field, including five of his 11 extra base hits, which is wonderfully encouraging given his pull-heavy profile at Double-A.

Chart courtesy of FanGraphs

Of course, old habits die hard. In his 18 games with the top dogs, Lewis hardly ever walked, struck out quite often, and got himself out on ground balls to the left side, all things that he did with regularity in the minors. These things will likely continue to some degree when he becomes a full-time Mariner, but like his Boomstickian .324 ISO, Lewis’ extreme strikeout and walk rates will also start to normalize with more playing time. He will never be a contact machine, but he also won’t strike out 38.7% of the time like he did during his debut month. Increased familiarity with opposing pitchers will breed confidence and understanding, but we’ve already seen him turn All-Stars Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, and Kelvin Herrera into home run waiters.

It’s hard to complain about Lewis’ initial returns, especially when considering the performances of Jack Zduriencik’s heralded prospects in the mid-2010s. We’ll have to wait and see where the organization chooses to start Lewis in 2020. Mitch Haniger is the only rock solid lock to start in the outfield, and another round of big-league Spring Training could be the final bit of watering Lewis needs to fully blossom. Whether he cashes in on the anxiously hopeful expectations that have followed him or simply becomes a useful non-superstar, seeing Kyle Lewis attack his first MLB opportunity with such fire and grace portends a completely new era for the franchise. For what it’s worth, his stance and swing remind me a tad of Rays’ outfielder Tommy Pham.

Jerry Dipoto’s plan to infuse the roster with his guys is nearing its final form. 2019 Kyle Lewis was the glittering specter of what that could look like if everything breaks well. Even if we’ve been conditioned to approach each new prospect with protective casing on our hearts, there was something undeniably magical about what Lewis did down the stretch. Perhaps the principal goal of the Mariners’ 2019 campaign was to get the ball rolling toward sustained success in the upcoming decade, something that is normally the product of a young core growing, learning, and eventually excelling together.

If Lewis and his motivational ways — both on the field and on Instagram — are any sort of harbinger, that young core could end up being more than just aight.