Barring the Mariners winning out down the stretch and all of the teams nearest to them suffering an epic collapse, this spring should bring the highest draft pick Mariners fans have ever seen in the Dipoto era. That will theoretically beat out the previous record holder from 2016—the 11th overall pick in Dipoto’s first full year as GM, and the player to make his major league debut in a particularly splashy fashion last night, Kyle Alexander Lewis.
Each year’s draft is a living organism with its own idiosyncrasies and surprises, and one of the biggest surprises for the Mariners was having Kyle Lewis “fall” to them at pick 11, after the polished college outfielder was projected within the top 10, or even the top 5 by some outlets, including MLB’s Jim Callis saying he’d have taken Lewis first overall. A falling star, then, with some evaluators wondering if Lewis really faced a tough test at tiny Mercer College. I’m not sure how heavily most prospect writers weigh the moralistic implications of the terms “rising” and “falling” when summarizing who had a good summer on the Cape and who didn’t, or who has had a series of invisible question marks hung after their performance like wet laundry on a line; the bloodless and necessary work of the evaluator.
Bloodless for everyone except the player involved, of course, including the blood that was shed by Kyle Lewis when he was involved in a brutal home-plate collision in his first year in professional baseball, an injury that reflects nothing on his skills, and yet is inextricably woven into his story as a ballplayer, no matter how much he wishes to distance himself from it. Rising. Falling. Suddenly the Mariners’ high-flying prospect found himself falling through prospect rankings, forgotten and forsaken. Left off all major Top-100 lists after seasons of struggling to come back 100%, Lewis came charging into Spring Training this year insistent on making a name for himself, hitting the ball with purpose and maybe a tiny bit of anger in his first big-league camp.
Yet those scorching Spring Training numbers didn’t translate into the howling winds of the mausoleum known as Dickey-Stephens Park, where despite hitting the ball hard, Lewis saw his power numbers depress, his ISO tumbling to a career-low .136. Many of us here watched with concern, hoping to see Lewis recapture his spring magic to match up with our admittedly sugar-spinning GM who insisted Kyle Lewis was hitting the ball hard, despite declining power numbers and rising K% and alarming groundball tendencies.
Still, the Mariners called up their Rule 5-eligible prospect after Arkansas’ season ended (and NB, Lewis did attempt to single-handedly drag the Travs’ offense to the playoffs on his broad shoulders, with an OPS of 1.12 in the playoffs). And, lo and behold, Kyle Lewis, the first in what is hopefully a long line of successful Mariners prospects, made his debut last night in a big way. After grounding out to third in his first MLB at-bat with a hard-hit ball (100 mph exit velocity!), Lewis had a star turn in his second at-bat.
Working against Reds starter Trevor Bauer, Lewis got himself into a favorable 2-0 count, and when Bauer tried to go up and in with a fastball, Lewis was able to turn on it.
(The guy in the Top Gun shirt, btw, is former Mariners prospect and WSU alum Joe Pistorese, who came out to support some of his teammates who had gotten called up)
What’s special about this, though, isn’t just Lewis having a magical, national attention-worthy moment by homering in his first pro game; it’s how happy everyone was for him, and the players he got to share it with. Like starting pitcher Justus Sheffield, who was Lewis’s teammate at Arkansas, who gushed over Lewis in his postgame comments. Or fellow September call-up Justin Dunn, who brought his electric energy from the Arkansas dugout to Seattle, and couldn’t contain his happiness for his teammate:
Or another fellow Traveler and recent call-up in Donnie Walton:
Or Shed Long, who only played in Spring Training games with Lewis, but is still deeply happy for his teammate:
Or back on the metaphorical farm, Evan White, Dom Thompson-Williams, and Nick Zammarelli (known around these parts as Nicky Three Sticks) all posting the same video of Lewis hitting his home run on their Instagram stories.
Or hey, someone who isn’t even a Mariner anymore:
So juiced for the bro @KLew_5 Congrats on your first of many Homers!! Keep going man!!— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) September 11, 2019
Much of this speaks to the culture of the current Mariners organization: players who really, deeply care for each other, who view each others’ successes not as something to be threatened by, but something to celebrate. Dunn and Sheffield have each spoken about wanting to push each other, and it’s exciting to think about how these interpersonal relationships and genuine affinities could translate into a group of players who both celebrate each others’ successes and push each other to achieve even greater heights.
But even in a collaborative environment, it’s important that everyone gets their chance to shine, and last night, after a long road to get here, it was Kyle Lewis’s moment.