ST. PETERSBURG -- Selecting a college pitcher is less risky than selecting a high school pitcher for the simple reason college pitchers have developed further.That makes Justin Lewis all the more interesting. The Rays selected the 6-foot-6, 180-pound University of Kentucky right-hander with their 11th-round pick. He's a redshirt sophomore,
ST. PETERSBURG -- Selecting a college pitcher is less risky than selecting a high school pitcher for the simple reason college pitchers have developed further.
That makes Justin Lewis all the more interesting. The Rays selected the 6-foot-6, 180-pound University of Kentucky right-hander with their 11th-round pick. He's a redshirt sophomore, which gives him two more years of eligibility while also allowing him to be eligible for the Draft.
:: 2017 MLB Draft coverage ::
Lewis has a high ceiling, and he also has the experience of pitching in the SEC, one of the toughest baseball conferences in the country. Included in his body of work this season were gems against UC Santa Barbara, when he was perfect through seven innings before picking up the win; and a complete-game win against LSU.
"If you would have told me at the start of the Draft that we would have had the opportunity to take Justin Lewis in the 11th round, I probably would have said that the odds were small," said Rob Metzler, the Rays' director of amateur scouting. "But I never say anything's too shocking when it comes to the Major League Baseball Draft."
Lewis went 6-4 with a 3.56 ERA in 17 appearances (16 starts) with 72 strikeouts and 27 walks in 91 innings pitched.
"I thought I was going to go sooner," said Lewis, who indicated a few teams called him in the earlier rounds, but he wasn't interested in what they had to offer, so those teams did not draft him. "But the Rays came up with a good offer that I don't think I'll be able to refuse.
"I think some teams were scared of the fact that I'm a sophomore with two years of eligibility left, so I guess they felt signability was an issue. But I think the Rays' offer will be good."
Lewis has two high-profile cousins, including former Kentucky basketball great and NBA veteran Chuck Hayes and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Lewis is studying communications with a minor in political science. Politics interest him enough that he'd like to one day be a mayor or a senator.
But that would be after his baseball career.
Lewis' height and loose arm make him intriguing. His repertoire of pitches includes a fastball (91-93 mph), a slider and a changeup.
"My changeup is my money pitch," Lewis said. "That's my go-to pitch. I'll throw a two-seam at times, but it's mostly fastball, changeup, slider."
Lewis said his changeup "just falls right off the table."
"I get a lot of respect for that pitch," Lewis said. "People say it's a tough pitch to learn. It's my best pitch and I feel comfortable throwing it to any hitter in any count. I have the utmost confidence in that pitch."
Lewis believes that once he adds weight to his lean frame his fastball will ramp up a tick or two, and when he refines either his curveball or slider, he will be equipped to advance in professional baseball.
Lewis sounded as though he's ready to begin that journey.
"I'm ecstatic about getting drafted by the Rays," Lewis said. "I feel like I have a really high ceiling and I'm ready to get started with the Rays."
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.