As the Mariners begin the season’s second half, Kyle Lewis is leading the club in most offensive stats, and has a good shot at the AL’s rookie of the year award.
The temptation is strong to see rookie outfielder Kyle Lewis, 25, as the Mariners’ successor to Edgar Martinez or Ken Griffey Jr. As longtime broadcaster Rick Rizzs said during one of Lewis’s at-bats Sunday, “He is Mr. Everything.’’
Brought up to the majors last year in September, Lewis homered in his first three games and had six homers in the 18 he played. This season, still his rookie year, he leads the Mariners with a .368 batting average, seven home runs, 39 hits, a .456 OBP, and is second in RBIs (19).
As the Mariners begin the second half of the season in San Diego at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday against the Padres, he’s the leading candidate to be the American League’s rookie of the year.
His leaping catch last week at the top of Dodger Stadium’s outfield wall that prevented a home run certified his chops as a top outfielder.
“That was really cool,’’ Lewis said Friday. “Working on balls at the wall, trying to get in my jumps. There have been a few plays this year that have been really close. That was special.’’
Wearing No. 1 (same as ex-Mariners shortstop Spike Owen), Lewis is the best player on Seattle’s re-made team (11-19) that has won four of its past five.
“The thing that sticks out for me with Kyle is that he’s not satisfied,’’ manager Scott Servais said. “He comes in every day and he’s got a plan. He’s working on things. Even in batting practice. Some guys get caught up in what their BP looks like, or how far they’re hitting it. Kyle is very structured.
“Every day, he is disciplined. He doesn’t care about the result at all, he just wants to feel right, making sure he’s attacking the ball in the right way. If he does that, he knows good things are going to happen.’’
Lewis grew up in Georgia, where he went to Mercer University in Macon. He was twice named the Southern Conference player of the year, and by Baseball America as the college player of the year. The Mariners drafted him in the first round in 2016.
He started in Class A at Everett, then to Modesto and Arkansas. A tear of his right knee’s ACL required surgery that slowed his progress.
Seattle teammate Braden Bishop first saw him in Modesto in 2017.
“He came out in the middle of the season because he was rehabbing that knee,’’ he said. “I remember seeing him run, seeing him swing, and I could see what they saw. He was battling injury, but it’s a testament to him how he’s handled the adversity.’’
Clearly, he’s fully recovered.
“When he gets to the ballpark, he’s got a plan,’’ Servais said. “I throw batting practice to this guy every day. I see the adjustments he’s making. He is so focused, making sure that he’s in a good spot with his preparation.
“Shrinking the strike zone is part of it. You’re seeing him play off the game.’’
Although Lewis has struck out 28 times, he has walked a club-high 18 times.
“I’ve been trying to get my walks up so I can get on base more and score more runs,’’ Lewis said. “Getting my walks up, that’s been encouraging. That’s a big thing that I evaluate at the end of the year — how many walks I have versus strikeouts.’’
Lewis homered Friday against the Rangers in a 7-4 victory, then had three hits, three runs and two walks Saturday that helped Seattle to a 10-1 rout. He homered in the first inning against Texas Sunday to start a 4-1 triumph for the series sweep. He has hits in the past eight consecutive games, batting .519 with 11 runs scored. He is tied for the AL rookie lead in homers.
“I’m feeling really good,’’ he said Friday. “It was good to get a homer. I’m feeling good. I’ve been making little adjustments. All minor things are encouraging for me. As long as its minor adjustments, I’m confident.’’
Lewis could be the Mariners’ best first-round pick since Alex Rodriguez in 1993 (Seattle hasn’t had many good first-round picks since), perhaps the key figure in bringing to an end the hideous playoff drought that has persisted since 2001.
“I’m most happy with all around contributing to the team,’’ Lewis said. “That’s something I’ve tried to be as a player — contributing in multiple ways. Scoring a lot of runs is something that I’ve been trying to pride myself on.”