Kyle Lewis unanimously crowned AL ROY

25-year-old first Mariners winner since Ichiro in '01

November 10th, 2020

SEATTLE -- When reported to Spring Training with the Mariners in February, he wasn’t the outfield prospect drawing much of the attention. Instead, younger and higher-ranked prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez were the hot story in Arizona.

But the 25-year-old Lewis quietly went about his work, diligently preparing for his first full season in the Majors after a strong September introduction in 2019. And eight months later -- following a year interrupted by the COVID-19 shutdown -- Lewis emerged Monday as the unanimous winner of the Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Lewis outpolled White Sox center fielder Luis Robert and Astros right-hander Cristian Javier to become the Mariners' first Rookie of the Year since right fielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and fourth in franchise history, joined also by closer Kazuhiro Sasaki ('00) and first baseman Alvin Davis (1984).

Surrounded by his parents and friends at his Atlanta home when presented with the award by 1982 AL Rookie of the Year Cal Ripken Jr. on MLB Network, Lewis acknowledged that a flood of things rushed through his mind when his name was called.

“The road and all the highs and lows of the Minors Leagues and Major Leagues, the success and struggles with injuries and all that. When you get these milestone moments, there’s an overwhelming rush of emotions sometimes,” he said on a video call with Seattle reporters. “Seeing my family so proud and nervous watching the TV. Just a lot of those things kind of piled up.”

Lewis was the first choice of all 30 Baseball Writers' Association of America voters, a group made up of two writers from each of the AL’s 15 cities. He’s the 12th unanimous winner in the AL since the award began in 1947, joining Carlton Fisk, Mark McGwire, Sandy Alomar Jr., Tim Salmon, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Evan Longoria, Mike Trout, Jose Abreu, Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez.

There have been 13 unanimous winners in the National League. Brewers reliever Devin Williams took in 14 of the 30 first-place votes to win this year’s NL award.

Both Lewis and Williams are Black, marking the first time two African American players have won Rookie of the Year honors in the same season since Seattle’s Davis and the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in 1984.

“That’s really special. That’s something I don’t take lightly,” Lewis said. “When I was watching the show, I watched Devin Williams and I had a lot of pride in that, just to be on the call together and speak about being Black in baseball. It’s really special to see another young brother come out and perform at a high level. It’s something we take a lot of pride in. I just want to set that example, set that table, for guys who want to reach out to me and ask questions. I want to be an open book for that.”

Lewis, who battled back from a serious knee injury just 30 games into his Minor League career in 2016, credits the Mariners organization with helping him through that long recovery and putting him in the right spot both physically and mentally now that he’s reached the Majors.

“I think it teaches so much respect,” he said. “It was definitely not a conventional path, but I think there’s a lot of lessons in that, and I try to appreciate that. Keep plugging away, keep chipping away. Put your head down and work.”

While Kelenic and Rodriguez remain intriguing parts of the future -- with Kelenic the No. 9 ranked overall prospect in MLB and Rodriguez at No. 15 by MLB Pipeline -- Lewis has already emerged as a leading figure in the Mariners’ makeover.

“I think we’ve got a great chance to build a really strong core of guys,” Lewis said. “Those are two guys that are super talented, top of the scale when you talk about talent. I really do think we have a chance to turn into one of those rebuilding teams that ends up having a great group of guys move up and progress together.”

The 6-foot-4 Lewis made his impact felt with an impressive campaign during which he led all AL rookies in fWAR (1.7), runs scored (37), walks (34), total bases (90) and games played (tied, 58). Lewis tied for first with Robert in home runs (11), finished second in hits (54) and RBIs (28), and tied for fifth in stolen bases (5).

Of rookies with more than 140 plate appearances in the 60-game season, Lewis ranked first in on-base percentage (.364), slugging percentage (.437) and OPS (.801), and second in batting average (.262).

Lewis led the Mariners in batting average, home runs, runs and walks, joining Mark McGwire of the A's in 1987 as the only rookies to lead their team in all four categories since 1969.

Ichiro worked with Lewis this year as an outfield coach during Spring Training, and now Lewis joins the 10-time All-Star as the latest Rookie of the Year for the Mariners.

“That is special for a number of reasons,” Lewis said. “It didn’t have to come to this award for that to be special. When I was with him, just seeing how cool he was, that’s legendary status in the flesh. To be around somebody like that is kind of surreal. … To be in that company is something I’m grateful for and to be on the same field with him is something I’ll remember forever.”

As for the future?

“I’m still learning,” Lewis said. “I’m still working every day trying to write my story. Anything can happen.”