Through the years, I’ve been lucky enough to cover some pretty good athletes in just about every sport on the high school and college levels.
But never has there been a No. 1 draft pick in that group. The closest was J.D. Drew, who was drafted second by Philadelphia in 1997 before refusing to sign with the Phillies, and he was drafted fifth the following year by the St. Louis Cardinals.
That could change Thursday, however, with Kyle Lewis in the mix to be taken first in the Major League Baseball draft. The Mercer center fielder, who had a tremendous junior year after a standout sophomore season, certainly will be taken early in Thursday’s draft, and there have been rumblings that he will be picked by the Philadelphia Phillies at No. 1, the Cincinnati Reds at No. 2 or the Atlanta Braves at No. 3.
It’s remarkable, really, considering Lewis wasn’t even drafted after he wrapped up his high school career at Shiloh in Snellville. But back then, Lewis was trying to decide between basketball and baseball.
It certainly looks like he made the right choice.
Lewis really broke onto the scene in 2015 when he led the Southern Conference in batting average and home runs (hitting 17) while leading Bears to the conference regular-season and tournament titles. This season, he batted .395 with 20 more home runs and 72 RBI, once again showing off his dynamic bat speed and strong eye at the plate, drawing 66 walks.
Mercer once again won the conference regular-season title before falling just short of another conference tournament title (and another NCAA Tournament berth), and Lewis, obviously, played a big part in that success.
He already has been named Baseball America’s Player of the Year, a Louisville Slugger first-team All-American and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the top amateur player in the country. Lewis has had a good week already, and it will get even better Thursday. It’s just a matter of how good it will be and which team will be lucky enough (and makes the right decision) to have Lewis join its organization.
There are some doubters about Lewis because he played in the Southern Conference and not in the SEC or ACC. Obviously, he didn’t face the day-in and day-out kind of pitchers and competition he would have faced in those conferences.
But watch him play — watch him swing the bat, run the bases and roam center field — just a few times, and it’s easy to see those concerns are unfounded. Lewis’ talent is undeniable, and it’s going to lead to bigger and better things in the minor leagues and eventually the major leagues.
He’s the best I’ve seen in person — in any sport on the high school or college levels (including Drew) — and there’s even more to come after a big night Thursday.