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40 in 40: Kyle Lewis

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Finally, at last, fully healed, our sweet prince arrived

Seattle Mariners v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Admit it. Not even the grandest of Mariners fans could have predicted the onslaught of SLUG that Kyle Lewis would provide this September. His debut was nothing short of spectacular, and for a team thirsting for any form of glitter and gold, Lewis ignited something in fans that hadn’t been seen for months. The doldrums of summer had passed. It was officially mash season.

Lewis’ 2019 at AA-Arkansas was good, not great. When he made contact with the ball, he hit the ever-living crud out of it. His exit velos were among the best in the entire organization, including that of the big league club. Lewis was still learning the strike-zone, specifically how to lay off breaking pitches away. The defense was coming around, but most would tell you it wasn’t a finished product. A sound argument could be made that Lewis wasn’t quite ready for the big show. But with Rule 5 eligibility approaching this offseason, Jerry Dipoto decided it was time his very first draft pick in Seattle get caffeinated, inviting him up for a cup of coffee.

Lewis would get 75 plate appearances in 2019 and boy did he make the most of them. His .268/.293/.592 slash contributed to a 127 wRC+ in September, besting the Mariners. His 0.5 fWAR ranked just behind Austin Nola for best on the team the final month of the season. But crude numbers really don’t tell the story.

Lewis’ Brls/PA percentage of 13.3% ranked atop the league this season for players with a minimum of 40 balls put in play. Simply put, Lewis found the sweet spot in 13.3% of his plate appearances. That percentage is better than literally any other baseball player you can think of this season. The dingers were no-doubters. The doubles were scorched to the wall. Seemingly everything he hit had a vapor trail coming off it.

Impressive as his late summer fireworks were, Lewis is still far from a sure thing. There’s still the aforementioned issue of swing-and-miss in his game. The 38.7 K% is troubling, and will need to improve if Lewis is to reach his full offensive potential. His 39.0% Whiff% was also dreadfully high, among the likes of Mike Zunino and Joey Gallo. Swing-and-miss was always going to be a wart in Lewis’ game to watch for upon his arrival. It reared its ugly head, but the whiffs were outweighed by the riches.

Lewis is a smart hitter. He clearly makes adjustments at the plate. Nearly one-third of the pitches Lewis saw this year were breaking balls, and he calibrated for them quite well. His .333 average on 55 swings at breaking balls shows he can adjust in-game and not simply hunt fastball all the time. Better still, his 39.3% K% on breaking balls suggest they’re no more of an issue than any other pitch he’ll see. If it’s in the zone, Lewis is going to let it ride. He appears to be a maturing hitter at this stage, likely still figuring things out in the box.

The truth is, Lewis has been figuring things out in the box for the better part of two years. When he was drafted in 2016, he had one of the loudest pre-swing jigs you could find. Lewis looked like an amalgamation of Nolan Arenado and Alfonso Soriano at the plate, but in the worst ways. There was way too much going on. Lewis had absolutely no chance of developing a consistent cadence or timing. He was surviving for the most part on talent alone.

Fast forward to spring training 2019, and Lewis shows up looking like a totally different animal at the plate. His hands were lower. The leg-kick had been curtailed. The hand-wiggle, while still present, was greatly diminished. Lewis was now able to engage his core and drive off his back-leg with greater authority. These factors helped Lewis find far more power and consistency in 2019. He’s simply still finding his swing. As guys like Chris Taylor and Ketel Marte have shown, it can take some time to find something that really clicks.

It’s only just begun for Lewis. He drops the donut off his bat, points to the sky as if it cue Drip, Drip, Drip to signal his entrance through the rafters. Tory Lanez and Meek Mill hastily oblige. Fans rise. Lewis isn’t here to award you a first-pitch get-it-over fastball. Sonny Gray is at 105 pitches. He’s basically asking for this. Boom. Massive dong to right-center. No-hitter over. Gray’s night is over. This, just 24 hours after doing the same to Trevor Bauer. When will they learn?

Lewis is going to have every opportunity to man a corner outfield spot on a full-time basis for the Mariners in 2020. It’s not hard to imagine him becoming a fan-favorite next season if his torrid power surge is legitimate. I, for one, have reason to believe it is.

Lewis may abstain from alcohol, but you can bet your ass he’ll be doing shots this spring. Moonshots, that is.