Kyle Lewis settles into the batter’s box. With a quick twitch of his wrists, the ball soars through the air and over the wall.
This scene has happened 39 times since Lewis arrived on Mercer’s campus three years ago.
Now he is sitting near the top of many major league teams’ draft boards. On June 9, Lewis will hear his name called, according to most scouts and experts very early.
MLB.com recently released its newest mock draft. Lewis’ stock is continuing to rise, they now have him slotted at number two to the Cincinnati Reds. The talk of him being a top 10-draft pick certainly has not gone unnoticed by the 6-foot-4 junior from Snellville.
“It is the most exciting thing I have experienced to this point in my life.” Lewis said.
If drafted in the top 10, he will join a short list of players who attended college for at least three seasons to get drafted that high in the past five years. During that time, just three players have been selected in the top 11 picks after completing three years of college: Ian Happ, Michael Conforto and George Springer.
Lewis’ stats at Mercer are in line with those three, and he has managed to do it in fewer at-bats. Two of those three already have been called up to the major leagues, the exception being Happ, who is in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system.
The process of teams scouting players for the draft has put Lewis and Mercer head coach Craig Gibson front and center. With teams interested in the type of person Lewis is, Gibson is questioned frequently by scouts from almost all 30 teams. Many of those questions have focused on Lewis off the field.
“I have gotten everything from the length of his fingernails to what he eats, what he drives. I’m not a manicurist or a pedicurist I tell them,” Gibson said. “Most of the stuff I get is the off the field, the character, the integrity those kind of questions.”
The teams, and their scouts, seem to like what they see.
“He has the best combination of ceiling and floor in the draft, as a prototype power-hitting right fielder who may be able to play center,” Jim Callis said in a recent mock draft on MLB.com. “He overcame small-school concerns by starring in the Cape Cod League — a showcase circuit for top prospects — last summer.”
The rise to this level is something few could have predicted when Lewis first arrived at Mercer. He was not heavily recruited by any bigger programs, and most of his offers came schools like Mercer, which includes Furman and Georgia State.
Lewis played basketball throughout high school and did not turn his attention to baseball until his senior year. His growth since then has seen him go from under-recruited to the top of the draft in fewer than three years time.
When Lewis arrived on campus, he struggled to make an impact in his first year with limited playing time. During the offseason, he participated in the Great Lakes League summer competition, and Lewis had a breakout campaign there, leading the league in RBI with 36.
That set the foundation for his year through the Southern Conference last season on his way to the conference’s player of the year award. He hit 17 home runs to pace the Bears’ offense, which helped the team win the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament titles. The conference tournament title led to an NCAA Tournament berth.
“Going to the regionals was fun. You know we lost, but the games were really close, one-run games,” Lewis said. “That’s probably the best memory I’ve had because being able to play and seeing our guys compete on a big stage when everyone thought we were gonna freeze up.”
Lewis has garnered a lot of awards while at Mercer on the individual level while also helping the team to a higher level of success. He was named a second team All-American last season and had the chance to compete in the home run derby, as well.
Lewis continued his strong play this season, finishing with 20 home runs, 72 RBI and a .395 batting average. He was named Baseball America’s Player of the Year and earned first-team honors on the Louisville Slugger All-America team.
These numbers alongside comparisons to all time greats, have turned a heads. Some scouts have mentioned Lewis in the same breath as Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and Atlanta Braves great Andruw Jones.
“I looked up to Adam Jones. I would watch his YouTube videos and things like that. That was the kind of guy I wanted to be like,” Lewis said. “I think they are all of the same mold. You’re dealing with the same type, tall, athletic center fielders. I think I fit into all that.”
With all the hype surrounding Lewis, he remains calm and ready for the next step in his career. That will come Thursday night with the major league draft.
“There are definitely expectations out there, but pressure is what you put on yourself.” Lewis said. “Somebody else can’t put pressure on you.”