Who's That Guy? Kyle Lewis, the Mariners' bright spot who could be Rookie of the Year

Mike Oz
·4 mins read

As much as the baseball world is enamored with Luis Robert — count us as fans — if we were choosing the AL Rookie of the Year right now, it would probably be someone else.

That someone is Kyle Lewis, the young outfielder for the Seattle Mariners who has done nothing but produce since he’s been in the big leagues. Lewis made an impact with the Mariners in a brief September big-league stint last year, but the league as a whole is starting to notice this former first-round pick.

So far in 2020? His OPS is over 1.000 and his .456 on-base percentage leads the league. His .368 batting average is second in the AL. Lewis has seven homers, as many as bigger-name sluggers like Joey Gallo, Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado.

Nothing sums up Lewis’ contribution to the Mariners this season more than this stat line: He hit .522 last week with three homers and seven walks against two strikeouts. But because he plays for the Mariners, those three homers amounted to four RBIs.

Lewis isn’t the Mariners’ future-is-now prospect — that guy is still waiting in the wings — but he has given Seattle a jolt this season, both with his bat and his sure-handed defense in center field.

Kyle Lewis ranks second in the AL in batting average and has a better WAR than Mike Trout. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Kyle Lewis ranks second in the AL in batting average and has a better WAR than Mike Trout. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Why do you need to know him?

Not only has Lewis proven himself the most valuable rookie in MLB this season (his 1.7 WAR leads all rookies, according to FanGraphs), but it also leads the Mariners. He ranks sixth overall, if you’re wondering, which is better than even WAR machine Mike Trout.

In a shortened season where a good month can do a lot for a player, there’s at least a chance that Lewis can be the Rookie of the Year. Robert has the bigger name, but production is on the side of Lewis — he’s hitting .368 to Robert’s .265 and his OBP is also way better (.456 vs. .321).

In the bigger picture, Lewis is the first piece of Seattle’s youth movement to make an impact. Jarred Kelenic remains the Mariners’ future star, but he hasn’t made it to the big leagues yet. While a few other young Mariners have arrived and not exactly killed it (Shed Long, Evan White), Lewis is giving Seattle fans something to be excited about in a season that is bound to be otherwise disappointing.

For non-Mariners fans, you should know Lewis because he can also do this:

Where did he come from?

Lewis is older for a rookie at 25 years old, but he had a decorated college career. He played at Mercer University, near where he grew up in Snellville, Georgia. Lewis played three seasons at Mercer, including a junior season in which he hit 20 homers and drove in 72 runs with an OPS of 1.266.

He was named College Player of the Year by Baseball America that season — sandwiched in between Andrew Benintendi and Brendan McKay. Still, Lewis was never really a hot-shot prospect by the mega prospect hype we’re used to these days. He ranked No. 10, according to MLB Pipeline, before the 2019 season. He was then drafted by the Mariners No. 11 overall.

Lewis had a solid minor-league career, but didn’t knock the leather off the ball. Still, when he was called up at the end of 2019 by the Mariners, he homered in his first three big-league games and hit six homers total in 18 games.

Is he a one-hit wonder?

Doesn’t seem like it. Lewis’ MLB numbers remain significantly higher than his minor-league past, but we’ve seen him have a standout bat in college. So while it’s probably not prudent to expect him to have an OPS over 1.000 for his entire career, it’s also a good bet that he can be a productive member of the Mariners outfield for years to come.

More from Yahoo Sports: