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Lewis Launches in San Fran

Giants outfielder Fred Lewis got his first chance at everyday playing time in 2008, but he traveled a long, winding road to get that shot. Originally drafted by the Montreal Expos out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2000, Lewis opted not to sign and instead attended Southern University. The Giants came calling in 2002, popping Lewis in the second round (66th overall).

Matt Lawton‘s cousin showed excellent on-base skills in the minors (career .381 OBP, 15.1 BB%). He also ranked among Baseball America’s top 10 organizational prospects from 2003-2007 in what was then a rather barren Giants farm system. Still, some felt that Lewis was more fourth outfielder than future regular. BA noted that Lewis was “still more about potential than production”, as he was prone to strikeouts and didn’t harness his raw speed on the base paths or in the outfield.

In 2007, Lewis’ official position on the Giants was “Barry Bonds‘ legs.” As a late-inning defensive replacement who snuck in the occasional at-bat, Lewis compiled a .287/.374/.408 line in 180 PA, drawing walks at a 10.8% rate and striking out 20.4% of the time. “Bonds’ Legs” also managed to become one of the more anonymous players to hit for the cycle, accomplishing the feat on May 13th at Coors Field.

Once that Bonds guy not-so-willingly retired, Lewis inherited plenty of playing time and made the most of it. A first-time regular at the age of 27, Lewis batted .282/.351/.440 in 521 PA. He continued to show a pretty sharp eye, drawing walks at a 9.8% clip while rarely straying from the strike zone. Lewis’ Outside Swing Percentage (O-Swing%) was just 18.9%, ranking as the 19th-lowest total among all qualified hitters. Lewis also swiped 21 bags and took full advantage of AT&T Park’s “Triples Alley”, collecting nine three-baggers on the season (fun fact: AT&T increased triples production by 32% between 2006-2008, per The Bill James Handbook).

The 6-2, 198 pounder batted .282 this past season, but that number seems likely to regress somewhat. Lewis often swung and missed at the minor league level (24.5 K%), and that tendency continued in 2008 (26.5 K%). His BABIP was also pretty high at .367. While that total figures to drop somewhat too, Lewis might have the sort of speedy profile to sustain a BABIP higher than what his LD% alone would indicate. In addition to the 20+ steals, Lewis was a +13 base runner overall, per Bill James’ Base Running Net Gain statistic (discussed in more detail here). Lewis likely has the wheels to make those worm killers (career 54.4 GB%) count.

It took him a while to get an opportunity, but Fred Lewis looks like a solid major league player. With a patient approach, the ability to swipe some bags and moderate pop (.158 ISO), Lewis could be an asset to both the Giants and fantasy owners over the next few seasons.