In a General Managers Meeting Notebook than ran here in November, I related that Kyle Lewis had the highest exit velocity among Seattle Mariners minor leaguers in 2019. Jerry Dipoto, the club’s Executive Vice President and GM, shared that bit of information with me as we conversed beneath bright sunny skies in Scottsdale, Arizona.
That exchange was on my mind when I visited Seattle’s spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona, a few short weeks ago. Curious as to how Lewis thought about his craft, I approached his locker to see what I could learn.
I began by asking the 24-year-old outfielder — No. 8 on our Mariners Top Prospects list — if he’s fundamentally the same hitter whom Seattle selected 11th overall in the 2016 draft.
“I would say for the most part,” responded Lewis. “But I have grown as far as my swing decisions. I’m taking more pitches, and I’m more aggressive on pitches I should be swinging at. I feel I’m better able to make good decisions on pitches in the damage zone.”
Power is Lewis’s calling card. Contact deficiencies are his bugaboo. The uber-athletic slugger had a 29.4 K% in Double-A last season, and he fanned 29 times in his 75-plate-appearance major league cameo. But when he does connect… watch out. Expanding on Dipoto’s information, Eric Longenhagen wrote in Lewis’s scouting profile that the Snellville, Georgia native “averaged 92 mph off the bat last year and hit 53% of balls in play at 95 mph or above.” Moreover, he went on to suggest that Lewis could have big league seasons where he “clubs 30-plus bombs.”
Asked if he’s made any mechanical changes, since signing, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Lewis said that he’s remained “largely similar.” He described “stepping into [his] legs,” and how he “likes to have [his] hands high.” Noting the latter characteristic led to the following exchange:
“I like to keep them working top to bottom. I’m working down and through the ball. Being high gives me an easier visual of that.”
Aren’t most hitting coaches now stressing the importance of getting on plane, rather than teaching down and through the ball?
“I think that’s a misconception. Down through the ball is universally how you attack every pitch you’re trying to hit. What it’s really about is, ‘How do you get down efficiently in a way that allows you to be on plane early enough to get out and through the ball?’ The on-plane part is the through-the-ball part. Down is the start of the swing, the pulling of the hands.”
Lewis clearly grasps the ins and outs of hitting. Even so, his tendency to whiff suggests that his right-handed stroke lacks consistency. With that in mind, I asked if he ever find himself getting too steep, to where his swing isn’t efficient.
“Not often,” Lewis claimed. “That only happens if you’re not using a lot of lower half, which can result in kind of coming over the top of the ball. But the way my lower half works, it tends to balance it out. It’s not entirely natural, though. You have to understand how they go together.”
And again, while that confluence hasn’t been producing consistent contact, it does produce damage when he squares balls up. Lewis only went yard 11 times in the power-sapping environs of the Southern League, but he subsequently homered six times during his September stint in Seattle. And he started off with a bang.
Debuting in front of the home crowd, Lewis catapulted a Trevor Bauer fastball 426 feet, at an exit velocity of 106.2 mph, over the out-of-town scoreboard at T-Mobile Park. The following night, he homered off of Sonny Gray. The night after that, he delivered a 457-foot moonshot — this one at 108.9 mph — off of Lucas Sims.
Lewis credits his high school coach, Reggie Ingram, for his early development as a hitter. The former University of Georgia outfielder began working with Lewis when the youngster was in the eighth grade, and his tutelage included equal doses of nuance and simplicity. More than anything, Ingram extolled efficiency.
“He told me that I want to be direct,” said Lewis. “He said I want to be short and quick to the ball — as short as I can. He always taught efficient movements. I have a leg kick that I use for rhythm, and if it was getting inefficient, we would talk about that. If my hands were getting inefficient, we would talk about that.”
Talking to Lewis in Peoria, it was increasingly clear that plus raw tools aren’t his only attribute. The more he opened up, the more his thoughtfulness came to the fore. Ditto the diligence with which he approaches his craft.
“Development is about continuing to trust your process and your approach,” said Lewis. “For instance, when pitchers show that they want to bust you in, are you going to be able to stay with your approach, or are you going to give in to what they’re trying to do? And that becomes tougher at each level, because there’s a lot more mix. When there’s more mix, there’s more information in your head. You need to understand how to tunnel all of that back towards what you’re trying to accomplish. You need to stay true to who you are.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.