SEATTLE – You’ve heard all about Jarred Kelenic this spring. He is, if all goes to plan, The Next Big Thing for the Mariners.
Julio Rodriguez, barely 20 years old, is The Next Next Big Thing after Kelenic, and their eagerly anticipated arrival – in the not-too-distant future – in Seattle’s outfield should represent a vital jumping-off point in the Mariners’ rebuilding efforts.
Not to be forgotten, big things were already happening in center field for the Mariners in 2020, and Kyle Lewis – still just 25 – is heading into his first full season in the major leagues carrying the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
“Last year was definitely helpful for me moving forward,” said Lewis, the unanimous selection as the American League Rookie of the Year in 2020. “It has done a lot for my confidence level, you know, feeling like I’ve been around a while, even in different capacities, whether it be practices, whether it be just meeting rooms, day to day – it’s definitely helped my confidence as well.”
Lewis is again expected to be a middle-of-the-order mainstay in the M’s lineup in 2021. He finished with a .262/.364/.437 slash line with three doubles, 11 home runs, 28 runs batted in, five stolen bases, 34 walks and 71 strikeouts in 58 games last season.
“My personal challenge is to continue to be who I am, stick to who I am and not come off of that,” he said in a virtual call this week. “That ultimately becomes the challenge. And that ultimately becomes what my goal is going to be for this year.”
He knows pitchers will have a more detailed scouting report for him this season – he’s anticipating a lot of soft stuff away – but he doesn’t want to let his adjustments veer too far from his original plan. Much of that plan last year involved hitting the ball to the opposite field, an approach that impressed manager Scott Servais.
“We saw him go the opposite field a lot last year – not just for power, but taking the two-strike breaking ball from a right-hander and just serving it in right field,” Servais said. “His swing mechanics allow that to happen. He needs to stay with that; it’s really important. He doesn’t need to chase power – power just happens by making good contact. He’s a strong guy, and his swing allows him to get the ball in the air often.”
Lewis had a torrid start to the truncated 2020 season but struggled in September, hitting just .147 with a .550 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over his final 22 games.
“I think just understanding different ways and different external factors that may pull you out of who you are as a hitter, from where you are the best version of yourself,” Lewis said. “So those are things that I’ve learned, being able to go through and have struggles and have success, being able to see different areas or different things that may have happened, that shifted my mindset in the box.
“So going into this year, I definitely have more information about certain things. Maybe one thing will be if you are overthinking the scouting report, trying to be two steps ahead of the pitcher instead of staying with what you know how to do. Things like that. So those are the kinds of things that I’m grateful for moving into this year that hopefully can shorten those struggles.”
Yes, the Mariners have a wave of top prospects expected to arrive in Seattle sometime in the next year or so – or, in Kelenic’s case, sometime in the next month or two.
But Lewis sounds eager to prove he remains a central factor in the team’s future.
“I think he’s going to learn a lot this year. I really do,” Servais said. “He gained a ton of confidence last year based on the numbers he was able to put up and kind of how he led our team offensively. But he’s going to learn a ton this year. As the league gets to know you, they make adjustments as well – and then you’ve got to adjust back.”