In advance of Thursday's draft, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
One of the top prospects on this year's board is Kyle Lewis, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound outfielder from Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Lewis is arguably the best offensive player in the entire draft, and posted an eye-popping .395/.535/.731 line with 20 home runs in 61 games for the Bears this season. Lewis was named Baseball America's College Player of the Year on Wednesday. For more on him, check out Minor League Ball's scouting report.
Lewis is virtually assured of being a top-3 pick in this year's draft, and has had private workouts with the Phillies (1st overall) and Braves (3rd overall) so far this week. Though he is in contention to be selected by Philadelphia with the top overall pick, Lewis has been pegged to go to the Reds with the 2nd-overall pick (ESPN) and his hometown Braves at No. 3 (Baseball America, MLB.com) in the latest round of mock drafts. Lewis was recently ranked by BA as the fourth-best player in the entire draft, and spoke with MLBDD Tuesday afternoon:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you loved playing the game?
"When I was 3, I started playing. My brother used to play, so I would just play because he played. I just followed his footsteps and loved it ever since."
Growing up, who was your favorite team? Favorite player?
"I liked the Braves a lot. I liked the Yankees a lot growing up. Chipper Jones was one of my favorites, and I liked [Derek] Jeter a lot too. Jeter was probably up there."
When did you realize that your dream of playing in the pros could actually come true?
"I always felt like I had a good shot, even coming out of high school and going to college. I felt like I had a good shot to develop in college. The summer after my freshman year, I had a lot of success. I went up to the Cape Cod League, and at that point I felt like I had a good shot at playing in the pros."
You were undrafted out of high school, and only got 89 at-bats as a freshman in a part-time role. It's been a meteoric rise for you in that respect. What led to that rise? What changed?
"My swing never changed. I got overlooked a lot... I didn't really play at a very good high school. We didn't win anything. I played first base, so it's tough from that standpoint because I was a skinny guy playing first. I didn't play a lot of travel ball. My talents are a lot better, but it's the same core skills that I've always had. Same swing and everything. I kind of got in a situation where I was playing basketball as well and didn't get a lot of attention. Nothing really changed, I just really started to buckle down and apply myself once I stopped playing basketball. Just applying myself to become a student of the game and learn how to hone in on my skills. I think that before I really hadn't been practicing all my skills, so once I got to college, I was able to really just grind every day and work on the actual, technical part of the game."
A lot of guys in this draft go to powerhouse, high-major schools. You're at a smaller school in Mercer. What went into that decision? Which other schools did you consider?
"That was one of the better offers I had. I was looking at Georgia State, Kennesaw State and Furman. Out of the schools, Mercer had a great academic situation and they were a winning program that had built a winning tradition every year. Every year it felt like they competed to make it to Regionals and competed to win the conference. I wanted to be part of a place where I could win... being at a winning program is one of the most vital things to getting better. I wanted to come learn how to win and learn how to be a player who helps a team win. That's what went into that decision the most. Considering I didn't really have any high-major offers, Mercer was going to be the best situation for me."
A little off-topic here, but as a UNC student, it's something I have to ask. I think the moment when a ton of people were introduced to Mercer was in March 2014, when the basketball team pulled off the upset over Duke in the NCAA Tournament. What did that moment mean to you, as someone who was a Mercer student at the time?
"Man, that changed everything for the school. I think that was the biggest moment in our athletic department's history. Up to that point, a lot of people didn't really know anything about us. Even if they don't know too much, they know we're the team that beat Duke. For us, it gets the name out there. We were able to get a lot of booster support after that. For me, being at the school, being from the school, it brought me a lot of pride. You go random places and hear people talking about the Mercer upset of Duke. It's given me a lot of pride that our school could be on the national stage like that."
Well trust me, Chapel Hill appreciates it. You're probably going to be the first ever Mercer player to be selected in the first round of the MLB Draft. What does it mean to you to represent the school in that way?
"It's extremely satisfying for me to be able to be that kind of person who represents the school in a good light. I haven't gotten in trouble, thankfully, so I've been able to represent the school well and represent the program well. For me, it's satisfying anytime they mention Mercer. It will draw more attention to the school and help the program out. That's really the biggest thing for me. Beyond me personally being good and having good things happen, is being able to create good things for other people. It's extremely satisfying."
There are dissenters out there who say your stats are inflated because of the weaker competition you're facing in the Southern Conference, as opposed to some guys in the ACC or SEC. How would you respond to that kind of criticism?
"I think it's just the nature of life, there are always going to people who find something wrong with everything that you do. There's always a way that everything you do can be discredited. I understand that going into it and it's only going to get worse at the next level. I don't really necessarily have a response... I believe in what I do and I think other people do as well. They understand what I'm able to do on the field. There's always someone who is going to disagree with what you're doing."
What is your biggest strength as a player?
"My biggest strength is that I'm a complete player as opposed a one-dimensional guy. For me, being able to hit for a high average, hit for good power and being able to take walks kind of plays up. It's being able to help the team in multiple ways instead of being an all-or-nothing guy or something like that. I think my biggest strength lies in my ability to do multiple things."
A lot of power hitters are all-or nothing guys, as you said. How important is it to you to have a good approach at the plate and be a hitter who can hit 20 homers, but also have a .535 on-base percentage?
"That's big. I've never been a guy who just goes for home runs. I try to just spray line drives to all fields... that keeps you true to all pitches. I want to be able to hit every pitch. If I end up taking a single on a pitch down and out that I can't really reach and line it into right field, that's good with me. That means I'm able to spoil good pitches. Having a high on-base is probably the stats I'm most proud of, more so than some of the others."
Do you think there are any weaknesses in your game? Anything you want to focus on improving at the next level?
"I wouldn't necessarily say I have any weaknesses. As far as improvement, I just want to improve overall. I want to improve every part of the game. There's always more in the tank, and for me, there's a lot more in the tank. It's just exciting to think about how much better I can get. Every aspect, I can improve... and I'm going to."
Baseball America named you their College Player of the Year this week. Looking back, the names on that list in previous years include major-league stars like Kris Bryant, Stephen Strasburg, Buster Posey, Alex Gordon and Mark Teixeira. What does it mean to you to be on a list of those names, even before your pro career starts?
"That's huge for me. It's an extremely humbling honor to get and gives me a little more confidence going into [the draft]. Just a little more confidence that I can play with the best of them. You see how those guys turned out. It's one of those things where anytime you're compared in the same conversation with greats, it's a big confidence boost. I'm going to try to ride that wave and carry it into the next level."
Who do you think is the major-leaguer, current or former, that your game resembles the most?
"I think I play like Adam Jones. That's probably the most comparable. In different ways, you can compare yourself to a lot of different people if you wanted to. Just the way he plays, and the way he hits. I think it's comparable to him. I watch his mannerisms and things, and love the way he plays."
Some scouts believe you'll move to right field in pro ball, away from center where you've played in college. Where do you envision yourself going forward?
"I see myself in center. I feel like I'm an asset. Going two years with two errors... it's not like I pull up on balls, I go as hard as I can. I feel like I'm in asset in center and I think I help the team out there. That's where I see myself, but I'm open to helping the team in any way possible if that does involve a move."
Do you have any expectations for where you'll be drafted in the first round? Any specific teams in play?
"We don't really have indications on what's going to be the landing spot. I try to speculate, but honestly I couldn't even really tell you at this point. Everybody is pretty tight-lipped about that kind of thing. As far as where I'd expect to go, I'd just like to go on the first day. I'd like to go in Round 1. I'd like to be a first-rounder. That's one of my goals in life, so if I can check that off the list, that'll be big for me."
It seems like that's a sure bet to happen, and you're even in the conversation to be the top overall pick. How much of an honor is that, even just being discussed in that conversation?
"That's huge, that's something you dream of. That's a storybook. Just waking up early day and thinking about that kind of thing is huge for me. It's extremely satisfying, but I also understand that the draft is just the beginning of a career you have to build for yourself. While it will be good, I'm just going to take it in stride."
Your hometown team, the Braves, have the 3rd overall pick. ?
"That's always the dream coming up as a kid. You watch the hometown team, and you yell for them. When you grow up, if you have the opportunity to play for them, that's always the dream. For me, it would be no different. I'm open to playing for any team, anyone that gives me the opportunity. But that's always a dream."