Each year there are players that come out of nowhere and develop into household names. Last season, that player was Mercer’s Kyle Lewis.
After being used sparingly his freshman season, Lewis became a starter and destroyed opposing pitching.
In 54 games, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound centerfielder hit .367 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs on his way to winning the Southern Conference Triple Crown and being named a second team All-American.
“I think it was really humbling for me,” Lewis said of his sophomore season. “It just put me in a position to where I could be thankful for everything I had. I tried not taking anything for granted. I just really started to appreciate everything, and that I have an opportunity to continue to play hopefully.”
Lewis carried the momentum into the summer and was one of the top performers in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
He was one of the most thrilling players in the league, hitting .300 with seven home runs against elite level pitching.
“That was a lot of fun,” Lewis said of his time in the Cape. “It was ultra competitive. Every night you had to bring it. I feel like that was a great experience for me to play against guys from all over the country.
“It was a reality check for everybody. You think you’re good in your own little region and then you go up there and realize there are guys all the way up in Washington doing the same things you can do. That put it in more perspective with who you are actually competing with. It was a big confidence builder going into this year.”
Now entering his junior season, Lewis is regarded as one of the top college position players in the country. He has already begun racking in preseason honors, including being named a first team All-American by Perfect Game.
Lewis is hoping with the work he did this offseason on improving his plate discipline that he will have another terrific season he said.
He also added that he has seen improvement in his plate discipline already and is planning on focusing more on improving his base stealing abilities as the season approaches and moves along.
“Stealing bases is something I’m going to focus on this year more so than I did last year,” Lewis said. “I didn’t place a lot of emphasis on that last year. But, this year I think that is something people will see improvement in.”
Despite coming off of a year that many college players dream of having, Lewis isn’t focused on his personal stats. Instead, he is determined to be a leader and help his team win.
Mercer is coming off a season in which they went 35-23, while winning the 2015 Southern Conference Championship title and earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“My goals are to just be a great leader for the guys, win another conference championship and make another regional,” Lewis said. “I don’t have any personal statistic goals. I just try to stick to the process and how can I have the best statistics possible while being a great leader and leading by example. The rest of the stuff will take care of itself. I’m looking towards winning another conference championship.”
It is safe to say Lewis will be selected in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft and could potentially become the first first-round pick in Mercer program history.
He is regarded as one of the top prospects in this year’s class, being ranked eighth on MLB.com’s preseason top 50 prospects list and on Baseball America’s college top 100 list.
Lewis is a solid all around player with his biggest strength being his ability to hit for average and power from the right side of the plate.
He possesses pop to all fields and has the ability to stick at centerfield at the next level. However, some evaluators believe he might be destined for a move to right field.
Despite Lewis’ name being discussed highly in the draft, he is only thinking about what he can do to help Mercer win and said the draft will take care of itself when it comes.
“My family does a good job of placing an emphasis on keeping everything in perspective,” Lewis said. “Talking about the draft is always a dream, but the reality is that I’m still living in a dorm at Mercer. I play for them, I work out for them and I wake up and run for these coaches. I’m not running for a MLB coach. I’m running for my coaches. I might as well while I’m here play as hard as I can. That’s how I look at it.”
Lewis added that it doesn’t make sense for him to focus or worry about the draft right now.
“I don’t think about the draft really at all,” Lewis said. “It is always mentioned, but it’s natural. But, I don’t ever sit there and think about, ‘Man I’m doing this for the draft. I’m doing that for the draft. I’m checked out of here because I’m ready to go to the draft.’
“Things like that don’t really make sense to me because I have a whole season to play. To raise your draft stock you have to play well this year. I just keep it in perspective, and I play for Mercer. I’m going to suit up and play as hard as I can for them and try to win every one of these games.”
Update 5/14/16: Read my follow-up interview with Lewis here.
You can find more articles on top MLB Draft prospects here.