Entering this season, Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis decided to refine his approach at the plate.
Considering the Snellville, Ga., native was the Southern Conference Player of the Year and Gregg Olson Breakout Player of the Year, some would question why change what was working?
Last season, Lewis led the conference in average (.367), slugging percentage (.677), home runs (17) and total bases (153). He was top 10 in the conference in four of the other seven offensive categories: on-base percentage (10th, .423), hits (2nd, 83), doubles (4th) and RBI (T5th, 56).
Part of the reason for Lewis’ breakout year in 2015 were improvements he made while playing in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in Lima, Ohio, during summer 2014.
Last summer, while playing in the Cape Cod League, he wanted to take it a step further.
Baseball was the sole purpose for Lewis’ excursion north but there was some fun along the way.
“I didn’t know too much about (Cape Cod),” Lewis said. “One day at the beach I noticed no one was in the water and couldn’t understand why. The water was ice cold. A couple of us (from the team) put just our legs in (the water) like we were getting an ice bath treatment.
“There was also a haunted house that the team visited. The entire team had lunch together on the top floor. I’ll be honest; I was terrified.”
The cold water and the boogieman aside, Lewis refined his approach at the plate in a way that most sluggers wouldn’t even think about changing.
“I attributed most of the offseason to working counts and taking more walks,” said Lewis. “With the goal being to take more walks, I knew I’d get a jump on hitting better. If you’re more selective at the plate, you’re going to hit more pitches than you swing at.”
No hours in the cage. No video-swing analysis. No technique changes. Just being more selective at the plate.
From the start of the 2106 season through the month of March, Lewis’ adjustment has worked in more ways than one. Last year in 54 games, Lewis walked 19 times. Not only did Lewis lead the Southern Conference through March (26 games) with 31 walks, he was also tied for second in the nation.
His selective approach at the plate has also boosted his offensive numbers. In Lewis’ first 100 at-bats this season, he had 45 hits. His batting average was no lower than .395 and got up as high as .467. He’s hit safely in 24 of the Bears’ 26 games, including a 15-game hitting streak between March 5 and March 29. In seven games Lewis posted three RBI or more as well as three or more hits. In the opening game of a three-game series at Kennesaw State on March 18, Lewis drove in six runs while going 3-for-5 at the plate with four runs scored.
As of April 1, Lewis led the conference in eight of the 11 offensive. Lewis’ average was .450, slugging percentage of .900, on-base percentage of .579, 36 runs scored, 45 hits, 40 RBI, 90 total bases and 31 walks. The .450 average was 11th in the nation.
“I haven’t been thinking ‘How did my average get so high?’” Lewis said. “I’ve been thinking, ‘How can I sustain it?’ My average is a testament to what I’ve been working on.”
Not Mercer player holds a single-season Southern Conference batting record. That could change this season.
“I knew that I was fully capable of putting up these numbers,” Lewis said. “I’m not exceeding my expectations. What I am going is not beyond my ability.”
Above: In his first 100 at-bats this season, Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis had 45 hits and could make a run at the Southern Conference single-season bating record. (Courtesy Mercer Video)