After a breakthrough summer in the Cape Cod League, Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis entered the spring as a potential first-round pick and has managed to dramatically improve his stock over the course of the season. He’s among the country’s leading hitters with a .411/.545/.729 line, 17 homers and 61 walks against 43 strikeouts at the time of this publication, numbers that helped him win the Southern Conference Player of the Year Award for the second straight season. With elite performance to back up five-tool promise and one of the best swings in the class, he’s in the conversation to be one of the first five players off the draft board.
I saw Lewis this past weekend when the Bears traveled to North Carolina for their regular-season series finale at UNC-Greensboro. The video below offers two angles from batting practice and a couple throws from center field, concluding with his first three plate appearances of the series. Other draft follows from this series get their own blurbs at the end.
Playing in the Southern Conference, Lewis looks pretty different from everyone else on the field. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and features a high-waisted, athletic build that should add another 15 pounds or so. He shows fast-twitch ability in all phases, coupling athletic movements in the box with fluid actions in the field.
The eight plate appearances from Lewis I saw last weekend weren’t representative of his talent, as he went just 1-for-5 with three walks and never hit anything truly flush. Excusing the results of a limited sample, you can see the makings of a hitter who has the ability to hit for both average and power.
Lewis didn’t cut it loose in batting practice, instead taming his swing to stay up the middle and to his opposite field while alternating between metal and wood bats. In games, the top hand started turning over a bit more, resulting in a few modestly hit groundballs to the left side of the infield. That pull tendency aside, it’s a fluid stroke with the lift and high finish of an effective power swing. His hands, bat speed and bat control are all strengths. After the bat wiggle, the first movement of his hands is down, enabling his barrel to drop into the zone and take a pretty optimal path that’s to credit for converting his above-average raw power to games. He also has very fast hips and does a nice job of driving off his back leg, maintaining balance with a high leg kick that may cause weight-shift issues for less athletic hitters. In my view, it’s one of the best swings available in this year’s hitting crop, even if it’s not currently geared to consistently make use of the entire field.
One area of concern for Lewis has to do either with pitch recognition or plate approach, as he shows a tendency to get caught out in front of breaking balls (1:31 in the video) and/or chase low (1:36, an empty swing, and 2:01, a ground out to third). In a limited look, it’s hard to pinpoint that as a physical eye-tracking issue, overeagerness, or just plain overconfidence. A track record of performance like his suggests it’s probably one of the latter.
In the eight plate appearances from my look, Lewis hit one ground ball that compelled his full running effort and registered a 4.23 mark to first base, solid-average speed from the right side that ticks up once he’s underway. He wasn’t challenged defensively while playing center field for the Bears, but he has a corner profile at the next level with medium range that will shrink as he realizes his physical projection. In pre-game throws from center to third, he showed a 55 arm with enough carry to do the job in right field.
Lewis has a personable demeanor, is well spoken and enjoys being around his teammates. He was engaged in pre-game warmups and demonstrates awareness in games. He gives full effort while playing easily and under control. No makeup concerns from afar.
With five tools projecting to at least average and elite performance dating back to last summer, Lewis makes a strong case as the best college bat in the class. Evaluating him in the spring has been tricky, though, as he’s regularly seen mid-80s fastballs from Southern Conference pitchers while playing in an extremely hitter-friendly home park, which may compel teams to lean more heavily on their summer evaluations from the Cape than they typically would for a potential top-five draft pick. Still, he’s got the hitting tools and requisite aptitude you see from above-average hitters, a combination rivaled in the college class only by Louisville’s Corey Ray and Tennessee’s Nick Senzel. If Lewis comes off the board first, it’ll be because teams think the hit tool is just as good or better, with added game power as the separator.
Game Power: 60
Raw Power: 55/65
*Hit and game-power grades are on future basis.
Other draft follows from this series:
- UNC-Greensboro right-hander Hunter Smith struggled with command in the first game of this series, issuing five walks as he was touched up for six runs in five innings. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior threw his fastball at 88-90 mph, typically a straight offering that got hit hard when it was elevated. His best offspeed pitch is a changeup thrown with good arm speed, drop and differential at 81-83 mph, projecting to average. He also throws a 78-81 mph slider, which needs more consistent depth to become usable at the next level. His athletic frame, pitchability and composure are strengths. An early Day 3 target, he could become a pro asset with added velocity and a more repeatable delivery.
- Mercer’s Trey Truitt was the best hitting prospect on the field not named Kyle Lewis, showing a developing feel to hit with gap power. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore outfielder wore out the opposite field in my look, staying inside the barrel with a line-drive path. He’s slashing .329/.428/.604 with 14 homers as of this publication, and though his 24.6% strikeout rate for the season is a concern, the walk-to-strikeout ratio marks an improvement from his freshman season. Another step forward in performance would advance his cause to be picked earlier on Day 2 next year.
- Freshman right-hander Kevin Coulter started the series finale for Mercer, firing eight innings of one-run ball, albeit without a single strikeout. He has the classic projectable build at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, showing decent arm speed and athleticism in a low-effort motion. He worked in the 89-92 mph range early, pairing the heater with a 72-76 mph curveball that lacks depth and regular snap. He also has the basic idea of a changeup. The combo of size and tools makes him a high follow for 2018; added strength and arm speed could give him the life his pitches need.