The Diamondbacks made their second trade in three days on Thursday, acquiring 27-year-old outfielder Kyle Lewis from the Seattle Mariners for outfielder/catcher Cooper Hummel.
On paper, the D-backs exchanged a player that might not have made their Opening Day roster for a player that was once the consensus top prospect in the Mariners’ system and is still only two years removed from winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
So, what’s the catch? There are several, the most pressing of which is that Lewis’ injury history might not fit on a CVS receipt. With that comes inherent risk, but Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said that Lewis fills a more pressing need for the team than Hummel.
“We felt like he’s just a good fit for us,” Mike Hazen said on a conference call. “Taking a shot at some upside here with his power potential.
“He’s gotten on base when healthy.”
Health, again, is the key, and it’s been a problem for Lewis since the beginning of his professional career. Just 40 days after being selected 11th overall by the Mariners in the 2016 draft, Lewis tore his right ACL in a Single-A game. He had surgery and did not return for nearly a full calendar year.
Since then, Lewis has needed two additional right knee surgeries. In 2018, he underwent a procedure that involved removing bone fragments. In June of 2021, he was diagnosed with a torn meniscus and required yet another surgery.
His road to recovery proved difficult yet again, as Lewis faced multiple setbacks and did not play again until May of 2022. As if that wasn’t enough, Lewis made it through just four games before taking a pitch to the helmet. He missed over a month with a concussion.
In total, Lewis has slashed .244/.329/.432 in 526 plate appearances across parts of four major-league seasons. Along the way, he has amassed 25 homers, 57 RBI and 12 doubles. In 2022, he had only 62 big-league plate appearances, hitting .143/.226/.304.
Because of his inability to play in the field consistently and struggles at the plate, the Mariners demoted Lewis to Triple-A Tacoma on Aug. 10. Seattle Times reporter Ryan Divish wrote that Lewis was “stunned” by the decision. Nonetheless, Lewis finished out the year there, slashing .235/.342/.469 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League the rest of the way.
Now, a seemingly healthy Lewis will join the Diamondbacks, where he figures to compete for a potential full-time role in 2022. Hazen did not say exactly where and how often he would play, but he made it clear the D-backs will be mindful of his workload.
“We’re going to work hard to stay on top of that situation and how that kind of fits from a playing time standpoint,” Hazen said. “We want to be able to keep him on the field and keep him as fresh as possible. If that means taking some days at DH and some days in left field, that’s how we’re going to deploy him.”
Defensively, Lewis graded out well as a center fielder in his first two years with the Mariners, but those days are likely behind him. According to Baseball Savant, his sprint speed ranked in the second percentile in 2022, meaning he was faster than only two percent of his peers. Out of the 64 total games he played in the minors and majors in 2022, Lewis played just 12 games in the field.
With a wealth of top-notch outfield defenders already in the organization, the Diamondbacks are particularly well-positioned to take on a player that may not contribute much defensively.
“I don’t really think we’re a team that’s going to need center fielders,” Hazen said. “I think we have four of them. I don’t need a fifth.
“I don’t believe anybody that we acquire is going to end up playing any center field, outside of the guys we already have on the roster.”
Despite everything he’s been through, Lewis’ bat still has upside if he can stay healthy, and his raw power is loud enough to stick in a DH role. According to MLB Trade Rumors, he is due to make $1.2 million in salary arbitration this winter.
In contrast to Lewis, Hummel can play nearly every position on the diamond but has considerably less offensive upside. The 27-year-old had been a candidate to serve as the Diamondbacks’ backup catcher in 2022, but the team will now look to fill that role externally.
As for whether the Diamondbacks will look to trade one of their left-handed outfielders now that Lewis is in the fold, Hazen said this move was strictly about creating left-right balance on the roster and that it “doesn’t change any of those dynamics.”
It is worth noting that, depending on how the team views Lewis’ ability to hold up defensively, he may or may not fill the team’s need of a right-handed hitting outfielder. It is possible the D-backs still have more work to do in that regard.
What we can say for sure is that the Diamondbacks acquired a 27-year-old that looked like a potential perennial All-Star potential just two years ago. Lewis may or may not make the D-backs better in 2023 when all is said and done, but he’ll undoubtedly make things more interesting come spring training.
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