SEATTLE -- While the Mariners are taking a cautious approach with top prospect Kyle Lewis as he works his way back from major knee surgery that slowed the start of his pro career, the 22-year-old outfielder said Friday he's feeling strong and ready for the start of Spring Training next month.
Seattle's first-round Draft pick in 2016 won't be invited to Major League camp, according to general manager Jerry Dipoto, as the club doesn't want to push too hard after Lewis was pulled out of the Arizona Fall League after just two games in October due to lingering issues in his recovering right knee.
But that doesn't mean the youngster won't be ready to roll in 2018.
"I'm doing great. This is the best I've felt in about a year and a half," Lewis said between workouts from Phoenix, where he's spending his offseason. "I'm really excited. I'm getting ready to go. I expect this to be a fully strong, fully healthy year."
Lewis tore his anterior cruciate ligament as well as the medial and lateral meniscus in his right knee in a home plate collision while playing for Class A Short-Season Everett just a month after being selected with the No. 11 overall pick, but he still is Seattle's No. 1 ranked prospect and the No. 42 overall prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline.
After a lengthy rehab, Lewis returned last midseason to post a .255/.323/.403 line with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 38 games for Class A Advanced Modesto, then hit .393 with a homer, triple, double and six RBIs in six playoff games to help the Nuts win the California League championship.
The Mariners hoped to get Lewis some extra work in the AFL, but tendinitis in his patellar tendon led to the quick shutdown again in October.
"It was definitely a setback," Dipoto said. "We're trying to protect him. When he came back and felt any kind of discomfort at all, we wanted to make sure he was 100 percent before he went back out on the field.
"We've determined he is structurally sound, now we just have to get to the point where he trusts it. That is the only hurdle to get over now. Kyle is an incredibly good athlete who works very hard. I know he's frustrated by this, but we're with him trying to jump that final hurdle. And our estimation is that come Spring Training, he's going to be ready to roll."
Lewis is working out several times a day with physical therapist Brett Fischer in Phoenix as well as the Mariners training staff in Peoria and said he has no limitations now.
"I'm doing everything," he said. "Running, agility, speed work, lifting, hitting, throwing, everything. I've got to keep working. I have to get myself right, especially the way last year ended."
Lewis isn't one to dwell on the downside, even after dealing with such a swift physical setback to his pro career and having to fight through a year-plus rehab.
"It was an experience that taught me a lot of lessons about taking care of myself and understanding what I need to do and what advice I should take and not take," Lewis said. "There were a lot of voices coming at me from different directions. I had to figure out what was best for my body. I don't feel like I lost anything, I feel like I only gained.
"It's just a lot of discipline and learning about diet and nutrition and how it contributes to different muscles. Working in different ways, the importance of flexibility to performance. Those are the biggest things. Getting really disciplined. That's the learning experience. That will carry over to the rest of my career."
Dipoto believes Lewis still has the physical tools to compete as a center fielder, but will wait and see how things progress this spring before determining if he opens the year back at Modesto or gets bumped up to Double-A Arkansas.
Either way, the primary goal for 2018 will be to get in a full, healthy Minor League season and put Lewis in position to push for a Triple-A or Major League spot the following year.
"This isn't an easy thing, to come back from an injury that severe," Dipoto said. "And he's done it. Now it's just a matter of getting out there and playing on a daily basis."
He'll get no argument from Lewis.
"For me, every season is important, but this one especially considering the way the last one went," he said. "Getting a full slate under my belt will be the biggest accomplishment. Because if I do that, I know the performance will follow."