On September 10th, 2019 Kyle Lewis was called up to the Seattle Mariners and homered in his second MLB at-bat. What follows is a feature from the 2017 Playball.
13-time World Series champion Yogi Berra used to say that "baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical."
Still less than 100 games into his professional career, the Mariners' 2016 first round pick Kyle Lewis, has shown the ability to shine in all 140% of the game. Lewis' physical ability jumped out when he smacked three homers and drove in seven runs in his first three games back from injury with the Modesto Nuts in July. His mental ability jumps out when he speaks.
"I just like the technical aspect of baseball. I think that it's a sport that suits me well as far as the way that I think and try to calculate decisions." Lewis explained of his choice to commit fully to baseball and give up basketball. "Having to hone your skills every day, I always enjoy that. Having to study up and learn new techniques and new mechanics, I just enjoy it. I enjoy learning new things each and every day."
Kyle Lewis grew up just outside of Atlanta in Snellville, Georgia playing both baseball and basketball as a teenager at Shiloh High School. With his time split between the diamond and the court, Lewis failed to garner the attention of the SEC baseball programs in his area and only received a few mid-major division one offers.
"I didn't really play a lot of high-level travel ball until [the summer] going into my senior year and a lot of colleges were already were looking for the next class [of recruit] so I kind of got overlooked a little bit," said Lewis.
Despite getting a look from a handful of Major League teams, Lewis went undrafted out of high school and on to Mercer University, a mid-major division one program. Although the focus on basketball kept Lewis from getting into the showcase circuit and from getting recruited by the major programs, the 22-year-old is happy he had the opportunity to play two sports so competitively.
"I think there is a lot more value in being able to play both sports," stated Lewis who came of age when kids were increasingly encouraged to pick a sport to specialize in at a young age. "You do different movements, really just train your overall agility. When I play in the outfield I can still feel some basketball drills that we were doing. I think that being able to have your mind adapt to different situations that maybe baseball doesn't put you in, helps you to stay on your toes."
Once Lewis arrived on Mercer's campus for the '13-'14 academic year, he was, for the first time, focusing exclusively on baseball and the impact on his game was immediate.
"I think it was huge for me because, up to that point, it was a situation where I didn't know what position I was going to play," Lewis explained. "So once I was able to settle in as a centerfielder and just focus on that each and every day, go out and just work, work, work, I think that was big for me. It basically took my game, exponentially, to the next level and it's still doing that to this day."
After a lukewarm freshman season, Lewis had the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League over the summer. That is the best summer collegiate league in the country with top players from all around the nation heading to the northeast to get a taste of what professional baseball is like and to use wood bats. It's a league that scouts and Major League teams value because of the level of play and the chance to see players use wood bats rather than the aluminum bats that can inflate numbers during college games.
"After my freshman season I played summer ball and then made the Cape Cod League," Lewis described of when he realized he had a legitimate shot at being a first-round pick. "I didn't do very well when I went up there but I still felt like I had the ability to do well so when I was able to go back [to the Cape Cod League] after my sophomore year, that was when I really started to realize where I stood in the country."
In his sophomore season at Mercer, fresh off a confidence-building summer in the cape, Lewis exploded for a conference-best 17 home runs while batting .367 on his way to being named the Southern Conference Player of the Year. Following a return to the cape the next summer, Lewis entered the 2016 season with expectations sky-high. He met them all by launching another 20 home runs with 72 RBI and an on-base streak of 48 straight games mixed in. On June 9th of that year, he was selected 11th overall by the Seattle Mariners. On June 30th, he was given the most prestigious honor in college baseball, the Golden Spikes Award. Some of the past winners include Tim Lincecum ('06), Buster Posey ('08), Bryce Harper ('10), and Kris Bryant ('13).
After all the collegiate accolades, Lewis was living up to the hype in professional baseball until a knee injury derailed his season on July 19th.
"It was a base hit to right field and I was trying to score," recounted Lewis of the injury. "I was going pretty hard and the catcher was coming up the line to catch the throw. We were on a collision course for each other so I tried to plant and go around him. When I tried to plant my foot landed wrong I guess and buckled my knee."
Lewis needed surgery to repair his ACL and both his medial and lateral meniscus. It is what kept him from potentially joining the Nuts opening day roster in 2017.
"It's been really long but I've been learning about patience and trusting my process every day," Lewis said of the rehab. "For me it's been a good learning experience just coming out every day, trying to be consistent in my mindset and what I'm trying to accomplish. It's been long but it's been worth it."
Now that he is healthy, Lewis is in the middle of the order and Nuts' fans can watch this confident, intelligent and talented young man show off his biggest strength during this run to a California League title.
"I think that I can impact the game in a multitude of ways which provides my value," said Lewis. I think that I hit the ball for a good average. I'm able to hit it hard for power, play good defense and provide moral support to my teammates. I think that my biggest strength is being complete.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.