When figuring out who to write capsules on this year, part of the process is trying to make sure I don’t write too early on certain players. I don’t want to write on a player, then have them either catch fire or fade down the stretch. Last year, for instance, I wrote too early on Kyle Funkhouser and then watched him struggle down-the-stretch and completely change his whole outlook.
One player who I knew (barring injury) was not going to see his stock change based on production was Kyle Lewis of Mercer.
Lewis nearly won the Triple Crown last year for the Southern Conference, finishing just 10 RBI behind the leader. This year he is close again to the Triple Crown. He is behind in homeruns and RBI this year to Heath Quinn, who I have written about already this year.
The reason Lewis can’t really help his stock a ton is that the level he plays at kind of makes the numbers worthless. He will put up video games numbers, as his talent is much better than the level of competition. His 150 at-bats last summer in the Cape Cod League were more important than the 220 odd at-bats that he will have this year. Frankly, they are more important than anything he has done in his own conference the last two years. During the Cape Cod season, Lewis excelled. He was in the top-five in homeruns, while also hitting well. He was an All-Star and turned a ton of heads – or, for his fans coming into the year, proved that he belonged all along.
The positives are pretty clear for Lewis. His bat speed is a clear plus tool, which combines a 6’4” frame to project for easy plus power potential. His plate discipline has drastically improved between his sophomore and junior seasons statistically. He went from a 2:1 to a 1:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is very impressive. I am not sure it will ever be a strength but it is great to see him realize an issue he needed to work on and actually improve in that area. It shows a player who is willing to work and wants to get better. He could have been content after his huge year, or stayed hyper-aggressive, because of who he faces. Instead, he has added some patience to his game and it is a net positive.
For me, however, his improved plate discipline is more important because it shows a player who can adapt and is more than willing to do so. His hit tool can cause some debate, as some think it will be plus and others think a step below-average. Either way, the power tool and its potential are his calling card and the reason why he is a top-15 pick.
On the negative side, Lewis is a corner outfielder. I don’t see think he ends up in centerfield, even though some think he has a chance. As was previously mentioned, there are some overall questions with the hit tool. I think it will be average, but I think there are also concerns. The power is clear, but you have to hit to use it. The improvement this year with plate discipline is great, but it is tempered by the level of competition. This is the big issue, basically. You have 150 at-bats in the Cape, proving he can hit with the best players in college baseball. If he was putting up the numbers he has in one of the big three conferences (SEC, ACC, Pac-12), I think he would be a likely first overall pick. However, because those numbers are in a small conference from a school that has produced only one major leaguer of note in the last 30 years (Billy Burns), it definitely hurts his value.
There are other issues with Lewis. I don’t think he has another plus tool besides power, but the fact we can’t see him facing top players is the bigger issue. I should say that, for me, the level of competition is the main issue, although I know others have concerns with the swing, as well. I often tend to think bat speed is a bigger deal and can often overcome other swing issues.
I see Lewis as average tools across the board and plus power. This should not be viewed as a knock, as that profile is an every day starter who makes more than a few All-Star games. I don’t know a team that would not start that player. In all honesty, a guy who has average tools across the board is a starter in this league for a long time.
Now it’s time for another look at the comp section. Again, I used the Baseball-Reference player index. I looked for a player who was 6’3” or taller and weighed 215 pounds or less. Lewis is a bit bigger and a bit lighter, but I would expect him to add some weight as he gets older. Again, I used the last 10 years and looked for a hitter who has hit 25 homeruns a year, with an on-base percentage of .320 or less, which is viewed as average. There were eight returns for this search and, of those returns, five were the same player, Jermaine Dye. Dye was an athletic player from a smaller JUCO school, Consumnes River College. This is a school that has not had a draft pick since 2010 and has not had a major leaguer since 2006. Dye is 6’4” and weighed 215 pounds, with multiple 30 homerun seasons. I would agree that is a pretty good comparison for the upside of Lewis.