The Mariners are set to promote outfield prospect Kyle Lewis for his MLB debut, as was first made apparent in a congratulatory tweet from his his college team at Mercer. Seattle has multiple open spots on its 40-man roster, so a corresponding move won’t be necessary.
Lewis, 24, was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2016 draft but has seen his development slowed by a disastrous knee injury that occurred just months after he was drafted. While playing for Seattle’s short-season Class-A affiliate in July 2016, Lewis tore the ACL, medial meniscus and lateral meniscus in his right knee in a grisly home plate collision. He suited up for only a combined 79 games in his first two professional seasons, and he underwent a second knee surgery — an arthroscopic procedure — shortly before the 2018 season began.
At the time of the draft, Lewis was seen as one of the top college bats available, and it was something of a surprise to see him make it to the Mariners with the No. 11 pick. The organization surely hoped him capable of being a quick mover through the minor league ranks, but the knee injury and lingering complications threw a wrench into any plans to fast-track him to the big leagues. Even in spite of his injury, Lewis ranked among the game’s Top 100 prospects prior to both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, per Baseball America and MLB.com, but a lackluster showing in Double-A last season (.220/.309/.371) caused his stock to dip.
Lewis may not have completely resurrected his prospect status, but he’s certainly performed better in his second trip through Double-A in 2019. He’s been healthy enough to log a career-high 517 plate appearances, batting .263/.342/.398 along the way. The power numbers aren’t where the club would hope, but even that modest line was nine percent better than that of a league-average hitter in the Texas League, by measure of wRC+.
MLB.com lists Lewis tenth among Mariners farmhands at this point, writing that he has an “arm that fits in right field and enough range to stay there.” Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen ranked Lewis eighth in the Mariners’ considerably improved farm system, noting that he looked more “explosive” in Spring Training than he had in seasons past due to improved health in his knee. They tabbed him as a potential middle-of-the-order hitter with impressive raw power but also some strikeout concerns. This season’s 29.4 percent strikeout rate in Arkansas presumably didn’t do anything to curb those concerns.
Looking ahead, the Mariners have several more established outfield options immediately atop their depth chart, though both Mitch Haniger and Domingo Santana are currently injured. They’re controlled for next year, though, as is Mallex Smith. If that trio is healthy and all still on the Mariners’ roster — never a sure thing with perhaps the game’s most active general manager, Jerry Dipoto, at the helm — they’d likely be in line for the bulk of the outfield reps in 2020. Other options on the 40-man roster include Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop and Keon Broxton, although the latter of that group seems likely to come off the 40-man roster this winter given his struggles with three different organizations.
It’s possible that a role for Lewis could be opened up with some offseason maneuvering, but it’s equally or more likely that he’ll head to Triple-A Tacoma to begin the 2020 season.