Mercer baseball head coach Craig Gibson remembers the kind of player Kyle Lewis was when Gibson recruited Lewis out of high school at Shiloh.
Viewing an athletic specimen at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Gibson figured if he and the Mercer coaching staff could refine Lewis game that he had plenty of potential. At the same time, they didn’t know he would wind up as one of baseball’s better amateurs just a few years later.
“A bunch of scouts have asked me how they missed on them,” Gibson said. “Nobody missed on him. He wasn’t ready. We took a chance on him.”
Gibson said Lewis would have been a perfect candidate for the now defunct draft-and-follow rule, when organizations could select developmental players late in the draft, send them to a junior college and monitor their progress closely before signing them the following year. With that scouting rule no longer in existence, Mercer ended up with one of the best players from the recruiting class of 2014 and didn’t know it at the time.
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While Lewis said part of his motivation to be the player he is comes from proving doubters wrong, he admitted that he had a lot to work on as a hitter out of high school. As a freshman, Lewis hit .281 with a .340 on-base percentage and a .382 slugging percentage before having a big summer in the Great Lakes League. He tweaked his swing — from balancing his batting stance to keeping head movement at a minimum — which paid off tremendously. He posted a .395/.535/.731 line this past season as a junior.
He has since become college baseball’s best hitter and could go as high as No. 1 overall to the Philadelphia Phillies in Thursday’s Major League Baseball draft.
“I’d say the biggest thing is to consistently tap into my power,” Lewis said. “I had good power coming out of high school. But I wasn’t always tapping into it like I could have. When I went through my three years of college, it was getting consistent with my swing, that power swing, as well as playing discipline.”
Lewis was a first baseman in high school, likely because he was the best athlete on the team who could get most of the other infielders’ throws. He wanted to play the outfield in college, and Gibson gave him the chance from the start.
It was a different route for Lewis than for most top picks. Lewis made the most of his opportunity at Mercer and will soon find out where he’ll begin his professional career.
“I always knew I had the ability and that once I got to college I would be able to showcase that,” Lewis said. “Sometimes, that’s the best route for people to take — go to college first, you grow at your own pace and are able to learn and understand different things. There was no rush on my end to play in the pros because coming out of high school, I didn’t play outfield, I played first base. Being able to come to college, I think that was the best thing for me.”
Other fun Lewis facts
▪ While baseball is Lewis’ primary interest, he has a spontaneous side to him. To avoid being engulfed in the game, Lewis will try new endeavors just for fun. During the past year, he picked up the piano and can play a couple of songs, including Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets.” He also said that to enjoy some downtime, he once decided on a whim to go for a hike up Stone Mountain.
▪ Lewis wasn’t just a baseball player growing up. He also played basketball for Shiloh in each of his four years and enjoyed the sport as much as baseball. But entering his senior year, Lewis realized he had more of a future in baseball and decided not to pursue any college basketball opportunities.
▪ Not only did Lewis play basketball at Shiloh, he played with NBA draft hopeful Robert Carter Jr. during his junior season. Carter, a year older, transferred to Shiloh from Thomasville for his senior year. Carter started his college basketball career at Georgia Tech but ended it at Maryland.
▪ All four members of Lewis’ family attended separate Georgia universities. Kyle, obviously, went to Mercer. His brother Kenny went to Georgia. His mother Ruth attended Georgia State and his father Chuck went to Georgia Tech.