The Tri-Cities hosted the professional debut of one of the biggest names in the Seattle Mariners farm system Friday as Kyle Lewis and the Everett AquaSox rolled into to town on the Tri-City Dust Devils’ opening night.
The Mariners drafted Lewis out of Mercer University with the 11th overall pick in the MLB Draft last week. Even with the whirlwind past few days of getting drafted, signed and eligible to play for the AquaSox on Friday night, Lewis said he expected his first professional game to just be business as usual.
“I didn’t play at a major school, so for me it’s pretty much the same,” the center fielder Lewis said. “Game progression is the same, same schedule, so I’m just going to come out here and approach it the same way and believe in myself and play the best I can.”
Mercer is a small, private university in Macon, Ga., that competes in the NCAA Division I Southern Conference. Despite playing for a small program, Lewis, who wasn’t drafted out of high school, generated a ton of buzz his junior season by slugging 20 homers and driving in 72 runs to go along with a .395 batting average and 1.266 OPS. Lewis was one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually by USA Baseball to the country’s top amateur player.
As one of the top hitting prospects in the draft, Lewis was projected to be picked before the Mariners came up with the No. 11 selection. Lewis said he was aware he slipped a bit down the draft board, but was happy to end up with the M’s when the dust settled.
“For me, it was one of those things where I didn’t stress about it too much,” he said. “I knew if I could get into an organization that wanted me to succeed, then I’d be able to have success. The Mariners wanted me, and I’m glad to be here.”
Despite only getting one day of practice to work with Lewis, AquaSox manager Rob Mummau said the abilities that could potentially turn him into a star are apparent.
“Real good bat speed, physically gifted, and he’s a really good kid,” said Mammau, who is in his fourth year with the AquaSox. “That’s one thing all of our scouts have raved about. I think it shows a lot that he’s here the first day, opening night.”
The Mariners’ short season Class-A affiliate is no stranger to getting top-end prospects. Mammau has managed first-round draft picks like catcher Mike Zunino, infielder DJ Peterson and outfielder Alex Jackson.
While the Mariners certainly have plans for their latest first-round draft pick, Lewis just wanted to focus on playing his first professional game and taking things one step at a time from there.
“If I come out here trying to think about just helping me, trying to make myself shine, I feel like you lose sight of what a true baseball player is,” Lewis said.
Both Lewis and the AquaSox will be in town all weekend as they and the Dust Devils begin their seasons with a three-game series.
NEW LEADER IN THE CLUBHOUSE
Like with most season openers, Friday night was the debut for a lot of ballplayers and coaches around the Northwest League, but perhaps the most excited to get the season rolling was new Dust Devils manager Ben Fritz.
Fritz made his baseball managerial debut Friday night, and the college catcher/pitcher who was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2002 said that was a major accomplishment for him.
“I’ve always had the interest to manage, just having the catching background,” Fritz said. “I was originally slated to be the pitching coach here, but there was some staff movement and the manager’s spot came open. I expressed my interest and was fortunate enough to get the job. I’ve always wanted to do this.”
The 2015 Dust Devils that went 42-32 in the regular season and made it to the NWL championship series fostered good chemistry in the clubhouse, and Fritz said he hopes his personable style and effort to get to know his players will create that same type of atmosphere.
“I want to know these guys,” Fritz said. “I mean, there has to be a line between manager and player, but I think you’re able to get the most out of these guys by having a relationship with them and honestly caring about them.”
PITCHING PROBABLES FOR SERIES
Friday: Jake Brentz (Everett, LHP) vs. Emmanuel Ramirez (Tri-City, RHP)
Saturday, 7:15 p.m.: Luiz Gohara (LHP) vs. Angel Mejia (RHP)
Sunday, 7:15 p.m.: Brandon Miller (RHP) vs. Will Headean (LHP)
(Times subject to change)