When the 2020 baseball season ended for Kyle Lewis and the Mariners on Sept. 26 — and another disappointing year without a postseason berth for Seattle — a much-needed break from the daily grind was a priority for the rookie outfielder.
Lewis’ first full season of Major League Baseball was an experience unlike any other. It featured spring training halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, sports and basic normal life being shut down for 3½ months, an abbreviated version of spring training called “summer camp” to prepare for a compressed 60-game regular season that featured constant testing for COVID-19, stringent protocols and not a single fan in the stands for games.
Despite all of that, Lewis flourished. Starting nearly every game in center field and hitting in the middle of the batting order, Lewis produced a .262/.364/.437 slash line* with three doubles, 11 home runs, 28 RBI, five stolen bases, 34 walks and 71 strikeouts in 58 games. It was an award-worthy performance for a player in his first full season.
He led all rookies in MLB in runs scored (37), walks (34), total bases (90), times on base (88) and on-base percentage (.364), while also ranking among rookie leaders in games played (tied for first with 58), home runs (tied for first with 11), RBI (second with 28), slugging percentage (second at .437), on-base plus slugging percentage (second at .801), at-bats (second at 206), hits (tied for second with 54), multi-hit games (tied for second with 15) and batting average (third at .262).
Accolades began to accumulate.
He earned baseball’s highest honor for a rookie by winning the 2020 Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of the Year award. Lewis garnered all 30 first-place votes, becoming the 12th player to win it unanimously.
His other awards included:
- Mariners’ most valuable player by the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
- The American League’s most outstanding rookie in the Major League Baseball Players Association in its 2020 Players Choice awards.
- AL Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News and Baseball Digest.
Lewis could add to that collection of hardware after recently being named as one five nominees for the 2020 Seattle Men’s Sports Star of the Year as part of the annual Sports Star of the Year Awards, now in its 86th year.
The four other nominees for the award are Jordan Morris of the Sounders, K.J. Wright of the Seahawks, Elijah Molden of the University of Washington Huskies football team and Kyle Manzardo of the Washington State Cougars baseball team.
The public can vote for one the nominees through Feb. 6 at sportsstaroftheyear.org/vote. The other categories are the women’s sports star and story of the year. The winners will be announced during the 86th annual Sports Star of the Year Awards show on Feb. 26, broadcast on KING-TV at 7 p.m.
Given his stellar season and surplus of awards, Lewis would seem to be the favorite of the group.
So about that break following the season: Was he able to decompress and reflect on all that he accomplished? Did his body recover from the dings and dents of playing almost every day? Did the time away allow him to assess what was needed moving forward?
Well, yes, he tried to do all of that — in the span of 2 1/2 weeks.
“I did a little mini-vacation in L.A., but with social distancing you can’t really take major vacation,” he said during the Mariners’ recent virtual baseball bash. “So I just did a small little vacation and then rested my body for about a week and a half and then got back after it.”
At age 25 and with only 60 games played, Lewis didn’t need the extended recovery break that players in their 30s might require. But it’s more indicative of how his mind works, his belief in preparation and his commitment to getting better.
“He’s driven,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “Knowing how he works, the awards and the accolades and everything he’s gotten, it’s only going to push him harder.”
On Nov. 9, when he was announced as the AL Rookie of the Year, Lewis already had been working out five times a week at a Dynamic Speed & Agility — a facility in Marietta, Georgia, that focuses on improving speed and strength.
“I work out there the whole offseason,” he said that night. “I started two weeks ago and this (is) week three for me. I don’t take much time off. We’re smart about the way we do the program, but I think there’s a lot of things I want to improve on this offseason, and I’m not going to let that time go by.”
Part of Lewis’ 2020 success can be attributed to that mindset of time maximization. When baseball shut down due to COVID-19, he returned to the DSA workouts while doing baseball activity at his high school. He wasn’t just going to be ready when baseball restarted; he was going to be better than before it shut down.
“I just put my head down and worked harder than I ever worked — two, three workouts a day,” he said. “I worked on my speed, agility two to three times a week, explosive strength and body control three times a week. When I was able to come back for (summer camp), it was the most athletic I’ve been.”
Lewis said he knows last season could’ve been better. His numbers started to regress in the final 20 games with opposing pitchers focusing on ways to get him out.
In an expected 162-game season in 2021, he wants to raise the floor of his high production periods and maintain them for longer stretches, while reducing the depth and length of the lows.
“It’s controlling the game and finding consistency,” he said. “You don’t want to be up and down performance-wise. When I have those flashes of greatness, it’s controlling that consistency and showing up the same way every day. I’ve got my sights set forward.”