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Rookie Lewis stands tall in center field

@gregjohnsmlb
July 11, 2020

SEATTLE -- Kyle Lewis left little doubt about his preparedness at the plate by clubbing two home runs in the Mariners’ six-inning intrasquad opener Friday. Equally of note was his smooth play in center field. With Mallex Smith still not cleared to participate in camp, Lewis will see considerable time

SEATTLE -- Kyle Lewis left little doubt about his preparedness at the plate by clubbing two home runs in the Mariners’ six-inning intrasquad opener Friday. Equally of note was his smooth play in center field.

With Mallex Smith still not cleared to participate in camp, Lewis will see considerable time in center in the coming days. The Mariners are growing increasingly comfortable with his ability to handle that position.

At 6-foot-4, Lewis is taller than the typical center fielder. Aaron Judge became the tallest center fielder in MLB history at 6 -7 when he filled in there for one game for the Yankees in 2018, but even some of the bigger recent starting center fielders in the game, like Mike Trout and Adam Jones, stand at 6-2.

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Lewis, who will turn 25 years old on Monday, played the majority of his time in the Minor Leagues in center but shifted to right field when he joined the Mariners as a September callup last season. He seemed destined to be a corner man until returning to Summer Camp this month after working hard on his agility and footwork during the 3 1/2-month shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Smith not in camp, the Mariners’ only true center fielders are Braden Bishop and 20-year-old Jarred Kelenic. It’s notable that Lewis and utility man Sam Haggerty were the two center fielders in the intrasquad game Friday, with Bishop playing right field and Kelenic held out with the other younger prospects.

Lewis was given Saturday off, along with a few other starters, but expect to see him back in the middle going forward.

“I think we can use him quite a bit out there,” manager Scott Servais said. “It goes to what I've hit on earlier about how he's moving around. He just seems so much lighter on his feet. He can run. He’s got a longer stride. You typically don't see guys that size play center field, but there's been a few.

“I don't know if he stays there for the length of his career, but you'll see him out there some this year. It kind of will depend on what the rest of our roster looks like, as well, and who is available to us. I'm not sure you'll see him there every day, but you'll certainly see a good chunk of his playing time come from center field and, obviously, in right field, as well.”

Servais watched the action Friday from the stands behind home plate, letting coaches Manny Acta and Carson Vitale manage the intrasquad teams. That provided him a good perspective on Lewis’ defense.

“He does a lot of things right,” Servais said. “His first step, he gets behind balls right. He can throw, and he likes playing center. You can tell he likes being in the middle of the action.”

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Servais’ location also allowed him to see -- and hear -- Lewis’ home runs off Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius as he sat in the nearly empty stadium, just below the press box where radio voice Rick Rizzs was calling the action.

“Rizzs was so fired up when the ball went over the fence, I could hear him,” Servais said with a laugh. “My guess is I’ll probably hear him from the dugout at some point this summer, as well.”

Much of the Mariners’ excitement in this shortened season figures to come around the development of such rookies as Lewis, first baseman Evan White and others. While Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez have received much of the recent attention as the team’s top two prospects in the MLB Pipeline rankings, Lewis figures prominently in the plans, too. The club’s 2016 first-round Draft pick seems somewhat overlooked as the No. 10 prospect in the system.

Lewis displayed considerable power potential last September with an MLB-record six homers in his first 10 games and backed that up again with his left-field blast off Dunn and an opposite-field home run off Margevicius in his first two unofficial at-bats at T-Mobile Park this year.

“The thing that separates the guys with the real special talent is the ability to drive the ball, field and, certainly in Kyle's case, hit it over the fence to any part of the ballpark,” said Servais. “He doesn't necessarily have to try to do too much. He’s just got to square it up. And that's what you're seeing right now.

“I couldn't be any happier for him. He’s off to a really good start. As [designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach] and a few of the veterans have made a point to him, don’t hit them all now. Let's wait ’til we start playing. But we'll take it either way. He’s feeling really good out there.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.