It’s bizarre to think that Kyle Lewis was drafted by the Mariners less than three years ago. It feels like he’s been in the organization forever. Lewis has spent the past few seasons acting as resident Only Hope for the team’s future, as Jerry Dipoto has traded away fellow top prospects like Nick Neidert, J.P. Sears, and Thyago Vieira (OK, now I’m stretching for “top prospects”, but I didn’t really have a lot to work with).
Lewis provided a ton to be excited about when the team first drafted him in 2016. Lewis posted a slash line of .395/.535/.731 his final year at college. Right after being drafted, he was awarded the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the top amateur player in the United States. He was projected by MLB.com to be an average to above-average player in every aspect of the game. That is to say, he was thought to be a true five-tool player.
Not two months after the draft, all of that changed.
In a collision at the plate, Lewis tore three knee ligaments, including his ACL. After just having hit his stride in Everett and just having been Northwest League Player of the Week, Lewis was out of commission for nearly a full year.
When he finally returned to the field in 2017, Lewis struggled to reach the heights that had made him so tantalizing a year before. He posted a wRC+ of less than 100 in Single-A Modesto, and clearly wasn’t right.
Unsurprisingly, he required another knee surgery at the start of last year. When he returned, he posted a nearly-identical season in Modesto to his previous one. Unperturbed, or perhaps desperately, the Mariners promoted him to Double-A Arkansas, where his struggles worsened. His batting average dipped as low as .179 with just eight games left to play.
Of course, this wouldn’t truly be the story of a Mariners prospect if Lewis hasn’t given the fans a glimpse of something to spend all off season pining over.
The Mariners former top prospect went on a tear, going 10-for-26 with eight walks and two dingers over the final eight games.
The organization doesn’t seem to be convinced. They went and acquired outfielders Jared Kelenic, Mallex Smith, Jake Fraley, and Dom Thompson-Williams this off season, and Julio Rodriguez is on the way. If Kyle Lewis is to have a future in this organization, he’s going to have to make a statement soon.
His chance starts on Saturday; healthy at the start of the season for the first time in years, Lewis has been invited to break Major League camp with the team. T.J. Cotterill of Baseball America and the Tacoma News-Tribune asked Mariners Director of Player Development Andy McKay about Lewis. McKay had this to say.
“Kyle was arguably the best player in that (2016) draft. When you have injuries like this, it’s just time. That’s all it is. You’re waiting for the body to heal, but you’re also waiting for the mind to heal and that’s part of getting over that injury and trusting it.
If Kyle Lewis can heal his body, heal his mind, and learn to trust his knee, he could still be everything the Mariners hoped he would be. He could hit .300 and patrol right field in the shadow of the Hit It Here Café for years to come. He could be an All-Star. Maybe he could be buried, grinning, under a pile of Mariners, having just crossed home plate and clinched a playoff series for Seattle. Who knows?
If something else goes wrong for Kyle Lewis, he could be on the outside looking in for the rest of his career. It would be easy to see the Mariners quietly trading him for a couple of fliers, and everyone moving on. There is no shortage of Jeff Clements or D.J. Petersons in baseball.