Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Robert is Lewis’ main opponent for the award as this shortened MLB regular season heads into its final week. Cristian Javier and Randy Dobnak are both in the mix, too.
Baseball America tabbed Lewis as the 67th best prospect in baseball ahead of the 2018 season, but he underwhelmed in high-A and double-A in ’18. Lewis posted a .711 OPS across the two levels, and fell off prospect lists for the 2019 season as a result.
His 2019 was unspectacular, too. A .741 OPS didn’t exactly have minor league experts excited. In his few games in the Majors, though, Lewis looked good on his way to an .885 OPS in 18 games.
As the Mariners’ rebuild continued in the unusual 2020, Lewis has starred and forced his way into Rookie of the Year reckoning. An above average defender with a 139 OPS+, he has taken to the Bigs as well as any Mariners prospect in recent years.
Lewis didn’t arrive in the Majors with the fanfare of Robert. Despite a solid season relative to expectations, the Mariners have not been grabbing headlines. The White Sox are one of the 2020 season’s big stories, and it’s reasonable to say Lewis has gone under the radar.
The talent that made Lewis a first round pick in the 2016 draft has been evident, however. He is in the 85th percentile in barrel rate, and his tally of 11 home runs matches Robert. There’s plenty of swing and miss in his approach at this stage (28% strikeout rate for the season), but he’s shown a good eye in 2020, walking in 13.8% of his plate appearances. Only 20 hitters have walked in a higher percentage of their PAs.
In the 66th percentile for outs above average, Lewis has also proven himself as a two-way force in the Majors. Providing power at the plate, walking frequently and playing above-average defence is a pretty special formula for a Major League outfielder. He’s not the finished product, of course, but Lewis is already a well-rounded Major League player, and a player the Mariners will look to build around in the 2020s.
Lewis’ case for Rookie of the Year is compelling. His offensive numbers are much stronger than Robert’s. The White Sox phenom is in the 99th percentile in outs above average and is one of the quickest men in baseball, but his production at the plate has been pretty much league average.
There’s still a lot of baseball to be played. So much can change in a week when the season is so short. A hot hitting streak from either Lewis or Robert could swing it. As it stands, though, Lewis should be in the box seat. Robert is the recognised name, and it’s easy to lean towards the highly rated prospect on the contending team, but Lewis has been the better player in 2020.
Rookies like Lewis give franchises hope in the dark days of a rebuild. He would be a deserving award winner in what has been another quiet year in Seattle.