If there was a stretch last year, aside from that 13-2 start, when Mariners fans brimmed with anticipation every time they took the field, it was during Kyle Lewis Watch.
After battling back from an ACL tear that delayed his minor-league development, the former first-round pick was finally called to the big leagues, where he delivered in textbook dream-come-true fashion.
The 24-year-old hit a home run in each of his first three games and six over a 10-game stretch. He ended his 18-game stint with an .885 OPS. His power didn’t seem to fade during spring, either, where he hit three home runs in 29 at-bats before play was shut down due to the coronavirus.
In terms of momentum, you’d think the delay in returning to the field would have disappointed the outfielder, who was ready to showcase his talents. In his mind, though, the time off has given him a chance to get better.
“I feel like I was ready for the season. I felt like I was getting it going pretty good in spring training, hitting some balls out of the park. I felt like I was in a good spot and trying to maintain that,” Lewis said. “And I wanted to continue to work on my sprint mechanics and things like that. Working with my speed coach, just to continue to stay light on my feet and explosive. So having another few months to do that has been something I definitely can appreciate.”
Lewis is one player that has stood out to M’s manager Scott Servais since the team resumed workouts this week. Servais noted that he is moving differently than he did before — that there’s a conspicuous spring in his step when he shags fly balls.
It makes sense when you examine his training routine during the pandemic. Six days a week, Lewis would intersperse workouts with his swing coach, strength coach and speed coach in Atlanta. The result has not only been physical development, but mental development, too.
Even when an ACL injury has fully healed, having complete confidence in that knee is something only hard work can instill. Servais knows that.
“He looks much different. Again, coming back from a very serious knee injury, it takes time. And you might be physically strong and everything checks out, but it’s always in the back of your head,” the Mariners skipper said. “That’s what it looks like to me. Is that it’s kind of freed him up. The fact that he has worked so hard — he has 100% confidence with how his body is working and how it’s moving and how it’s going to bounce back after a couple rough days on the field. It’s great to see, and he is one guy that has really stood out.”
Lewis’ injury may have helped him cope with the uncertainty of the past few months better than most. He has faced hurdles throughout his young career, and has had to be patient throughout.
These last couple months must have been difficult for everyone, but how did you handle that?”
“It was definitely an interesting experience for me, but it’s something I’ll credit to having a lot of interesting experiences up to this point. So I just try to take everything in stride, take it for what it is, and try to show up when your number is called,” Lewis said. “I’ve always tried to have that mindset.”
Lewis added that he hasn’t been frustrated by the delay in getting back to the field because he feels he’s at the same place he was before he had to shut it all down. No frustration. No emotional fatigue. Just anticipation for a season some felt would never come.
Obviously, it’s hard to hold him to the standard he set during those 18 big-league games last year. Pitchers are going to take him more seriously, and will have a better plan of attack.
So what’s his ceiling?
“I think the ceiling is super, super high. We saw the impact he has, the power he has when he’s squaring balls up,” Servais said. “The thing about Kyle is that he has power in all fields. And he can take a ball to right field just as well as he can to left field. He’s focused on trying to minimize the holes in his swing and the areas of the strike zone that he doesn’t handle as well as others. But that’s the beauty of the big leagues — that it’s a constant adjustment.”
And if there’s anything the injury-riddled Lewis has shown, it’s that he can adjust.