The Mariners and Diamondbacks have swapped young big leaguers, announcing agreement on a one-for-one deal moving outfielder/DH Kyle Lewis to Arizona. The Mariners bring back catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel in return.
Lewis is the more well-known of the players involved. Seattle’s first-round pick in 2016, he bounced back from an ACL tear in his right knee suffered during his first professional season to climb the minor league ranks. The Mercer University product made it to the big leagues late in the 2019 season, and he looked as if he’d cemented himself as a key piece of the organization the following year.
During the abbreviated 2020 campaign, Lewis appeared in 58 games and tallied 242 plate appearances. He connected on 11 home runs and walked in a fantastic 14% of his trips en route to a .262/.364/.437 line. That offensive production was 27 percentage points above league average, by measure of wRC+, and it earned him the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Few would’ve imagined Lewis would only spend two more years in Seattle coming off that season, but he’s rapidly fallen down the depth chart. That’s less due to performance than an unfortunate series of injuries in his right knee, which has proven consistently problematic. Lewis began the 2021 campaign on the injured list, and an April return proved brief. He went back on the shelf in early June, and the M’s subsequently announced he’d suffered a meniscus tear. He ended up missing the remainder of the season and wasn’t recovered in time for the start of this year.
Lewis opened the 2022 campaign back on the IL. He was reinstated on May 25, nearly a full calendar year since his previous MLB game. After a handful of games, he unfortunately suffered a concussion and spent another two months on the IL. Lewis returned in late July, played in 14 more games, then was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. He spent the rest of the season there but had a solid showing, putting up a .245/.362/.517 line with 12 homers through 42 games there.
There’s obvious risk for the D-Backs in taking on a player who has appeared in just 54 MLB contests over the past two years. He’s never topped 58 big league games in a season and has only 130 career games and 526 plate appearances under his belt. Yet it’s similarly easy to see the appeal for general manager Mike Hazen and his group in rolling the dice on Lewis’ upside. During his lone healthy season, he showed the obvious power and plate discipline that made him such a well-regarded prospect. There’s a fair bit of swing-and-miss in his game, but he has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order caliber bat if healthy.
Lewis spent some time in center field as a minor leaguer and early in his big league career, but he was almost exclusively a designated hitter this past season. He’s capable of factoring into the corner outfield and could perhaps still moonlight up the middle if necessary, but the Diamondbacks aren’t going to rely on him in center field much — if at all. Corbin Carroll, Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy and Alek Thomas are all talented defenders, and Carroll and Varsho figure to get a particularly strong amount of playing time up the middle. Hazen has expressed a willingness to deal one of those players if it nets him help elsewhere on the roster, but Arizona’s depth of plus defenders should give them the chance to mostly keep Lewis off his feet as a DH.
Adding some right-handed pop was also a key offseason objective for Arizona, and Lewis could be a long-term righty power bat in the desert. He’s still just 27 years old and has two years and 146 days of major league service time. That qualifies him for early arbitration as a Super Two player, but MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him for just a $1.2MM salary. He’s arbitration eligible through 2026, and the early-career injuries have kept Lewis from building the kind of resume that’d be handsomely rewarded through that process thus far.
Lewis’ departure will be jarring for Mariners fans, but it looked increasingly likely Seattle could subtract from the corner outfield after acquiring Teoscar Hernández from the Blue Jays yesterday. As another right-handed hitting right fielder/DH, Hernández made Lewis an arguably superfluous presence on the roster. Julio Rodríguez has cemented himself as the franchise center fielder, and the M’s still have a number of internal options — Jesse Winker, Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell, Sam Haggerty and Dylan Moore — as left field possibilities. The M’s have reportedly floated Winker’s name in trade talks, but they could either look into a left field upgrade or rely on some of their younger options even if they send the former Red elsewhere.
In exchange for Lewis, they bring in a player with a bit more defensive flexibility. Hummel, 28 next month, was first drafted by the Brewers in 2016. Arizona acquired him at the 2021 trade deadline in a deal that sent veteran infielder Eduardo Escobar to Milwaukee. The right-handed hitter was sitting on a .254/.435/.508 line in Triple-A at the time, and the Snakes gave him his first big league chance this year.
Hummel scuffled over his first 66 MLB games, hitting just .176/.274/.307 with three homers in 201 plate appearances. He struck out in a huge 31.8% of his plate appearances during that time, but he walked at a strong 11.4% clip. Hummel also continued to hit well with Arizona’s top minor league affiliate, posting a .310/.423/.527 line in 33 games in Reno. In a bit more than 500 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, the Oregon native has a .310/.429/.540 line with an incredible 16.7% walk rate.
On the defensive side of the ball, Hummel has split his time between catcher and the corner outfield. He got 14 MLB starts behind the dish and 17 apiece in left field and designated hitter. Prospect evaluators have never considered Hummel a likely everyday catcher, but the M’s don’t need him to be with Cal Raleigh as their franchise backstop. Hummel can factor in as an occasional catcher and corner outfield option off the bench, and he can still be optioned to the minor leagues in each of the next two years. He’s a flexible depth piece who has less than a full year of big league service. He won’t qualify for arbitration until at least after the 2024 season.
Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported the D-Backs and Mariners were swapping Lewis and Hummel.
Images courtesy of USA Today Sports.