M's Kyle Lewis ready for challenge after rookie honours

·4 min read

During a normal off-season , Kyle Lewis would have enjoyed travelling around and being celebrated after becoming just the third Seattle Mariners player to be named the American League rookie of the year.

Instead, some of Lewis’ most cherished moments of the off-season came when he spent time hanging around his old high school in Georgia.

“I went over there just to continue to show my face and show the high schoolers that there are people who were in the same positions and have been able to accomplish great things,” Lewis said. “That to me was definitely a point I made to go back home and be around, be accessible to some extent as much as I could.”

As the Mariners enter the next stage of their rebuilding plan, Lewis is one of Seattle’s foundational players. He showed enough in last year’s 60-game truncated season for the Mariners to believe they have a burgeoning superstar on their hands and for the rest of the American League to take notice.

Lewis wasn’t great for the entire 60-game season, but he was good enough to be the best rookie in the AL. His mix of raw power to all fields, hitting for average, and proving he can handle the demands of playing centre field were major revelations for the Mariners as they plot out the next steps for becoming a contender in the AL West in 2022.

But as much as Lewis proved last season, he has still played just 76 total games in his major league career. His first taste of the majors didn’t arrive until September 2019. And while he was great last season, Lewis played against only the AL and NL West.

So while there is optimism about just how good Lewis could end up being as Seattle’s centre fielder, he understands being successful in a full season this year may be more important that what he did last year.

“I thought I was going to have that opportunity last year. But being able to still learn and get information, or being in the big leagues and having those different experiences, going to different ballparks last year is definitely helpful for me moving forward,” Lewis said. “It has done a lot for my confidence level and feeling like I’ve been around a while, even in different capacities, whether it be practices, whether it be just meeting rooms, day-to-day has definitely helped my confidence as well.”

Lewis finished last season hitting .262 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. His OPS of .801 was very good, but his 71 strikeouts were higher than desired. Lewis also struggled badly as the league began to adjust over the final month. He hit .373 for the first 28 games with six home runs and 18 RBIs. Over his final 30 games, Lewis hit .154 and struck out 43 times.

Some of that was to be expected. Manager Scott Servais said the message to Lewis was to focus on whether his process and approach at the plate were remaining consistent, not on the numbers.

“That’s what we’re really harping on with guys like Kyle, all of our guys really, understanding the batting average is going to come and go,” Servais said. “That’s really what you find out of course this season is are guys mentally able to handle the ups and downs. Now, the more you go through it, the more qualified and capable you are to handle it, but you need to go through it.

“A lot of our guys haven’t gone through 162 games of a big-league season yet. It’s just where we’re at in our development.”

One area where Lewis wanted to get better this off-season was on the defensive side, specifically with his throwing. He had some spectacular moments in centre field as a rookie but last season was his first opportunity to play the position full time.

“If you look around the league, there’s not many centre fielders that throw people out. They’re typically out there, they can cover a lot of ground, they’re very athletic, they make plays,” Servais said. “We’ve seen Kyle do all those things but the throwing arm kind of gets forgotten and he doesn’t want to be that player. He wants to be a complete player.”

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Tim Booth, The Associated Press