Top 50 Prospects #7 - Fred Lewis

Fred Lewis is one of the enigmas in the Giants system. Immensely talented, he came out of 2004 with prodigious production and a lot of expectations, but a .228 average through July in AA killed that buzz. Though he finished strong, suddenly Lewis is a prospect that must prove himself once again.

Date of Birth: 12/09/1980 Position: OF Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 Bats: L Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd Round (#66 Overall) of the 2002 Draft
2005 Stats
Norwich - AA .273 .361 .396 .757 512 79 140 28 7 7 47 69 124 30 13

After 2005, Fred Lewis was a hot prospect after an incredible season in the California League, posting a huge OBP after taking a ton of walks, showing great speed and playing center field.  But after 2006, Lewis was another offensive prospect who had struggles at Norwich and came out with a lot more questions.

As some are prone to do, people were talking about Fred Lewis supplanting Marquis Grissom in the Giants outfield in 2005 after that great 2004 in San Jose, where he hit .301/.424/.451 in 115 games in San Jose, and had nearly identical numbers in a 6 game stint in AAA Fresno.  The talk stopped as Lewis hit .226 through June in AA.  To Lewis’ credit, he finished the year strong enough to bring his batting average up to .273, but all his numbers still had taken sever hits, leaving some wondering if San Jose was more of a spike than the first returns on a ton of potential.

That potential remains.  Lewis’ speed is legitimate, ranking a 65 on the scouting 20-80 scale.  Though he is no longer the fastest player in the system (Marcus Sanders and Antoan Richardson are both even faster), Lewis had 30 steals for the third straight year.  Though it wasn’t as impressive as the previous year, Lewis also still drew plenty of walks to make sure he could take advantage of the speed.  And there’s still the potential for power, though at 24, he still had single digits and not nearly the impressive number of doubles and triples that might predict more home runs in the future.

But Lewis’ hype really started to take serious dips in 2005.  He concentrated on football in college, so he came out of the draft as a raw 21 year old.  Now 25 and with four seasons under his belt, he’s not much less raw.  He lets balls go by, but he also lets a lot of hittable pitches go, too.  Pitch recognition is more than taking walks, after all.  He also still gets caught nearly 1 out of every 3 stolen base attempts, with no significant improvement in that area in the last three years.

But perhaps most damaging of all, his defense only seems to improve when he’s moved out of center field an into left.  Although Lewis is a 5 tool player, his production is screaming a middle average, good OBP with steals guy with very low power and tons of strikeouts.  That might fly in center field, but not so much in left field, which would be better used offensively by some of the system’s power hitters, like Eddy Martinez-Esteve, Nate Schierholtz or even Todd Linden.  Moreso, playing in left negates Lewis’ speed and range, which is much more valuable when being used to help cover the right field gaps that exist not just at AT&T Park, but in 4 of the 5 parks in the NL West.  If Lewis begins to profile somewhere other than center, where his range is best used and his mediocre arm isn’t as big a deal, his value begins dropping off precipitously.

Over the past 4 years, Lewis has gained a reputation for not giving it his all on the field every day.  That has to change if he is going to live up to his potential.  It may be time to stop thinking he’ll be an elite all-around player and look at him as more of a traditional center fielder, concentrating on his speed and on base skills, which are still his strengths.  He’ll have to do that, or else he’ll start being pressured by Clay Timpner, who is less naturally gifted but a much harder worker who gets more out of his tools.  And behind him is Ben Copeland, and even Joey Dyche.  If Lewis gets bumped over a corner, his defensive abilities will be minimized, and his offensive skills will not keep up with EME and Schierholtz.

In 2006, Lewis will probably be moved to Fresno despite a disappointing year, something which has as much to do with the glut of talented outfielders who are ready for AA as much as Lewis’ strong finish to the 2005 season.  He’ll also probably get another shot in center field.  Don’t be surprised by moves back to AA or to the corners if issues remain.  With rebuilding (or whatever the Giants want to call it) right around the corner, 2006 will be the most important year in determining Lewis’ future.  A strong year makes him a likely addition to the major league roster in 2007, but another disappointing performance might drop him to the 6th or 7th (or worse) option on the crowded Giants outfield depth chart.

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