Indians lefty Scott Lewis is a tough guy to figure out. A look at his minor league track record would lead one to believe that he’s on the fast track to big-league success. If you watch him pitch, however, you’re likely to shrug your shoulders and say, “eh, he’s okay.” A 3rd round selection out of Ohio State in 2004, Lewis underwent Tommy John surgery in college and battled biceps tendinitis in the minors. But when he’s been on the mound, he’s posted some eye-popping statistics.
Lewis scarcely pitched in 2004 and 2005 as he battled injuries, but he tore up the High-A Carolina league in 2006. He posted a 2.14 Fielding Independent ERA (FIP ERA) in 115.2 IP, with 9.57 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9. That 4.39 K/BB was enough for Baseball America to rank Lewis as Cleveland’s 7th-best prospect. Noting that he was on a 60-75 pitch count limit following two lost seasons, BA rated Lewis’ curveball as “the best in the system with true 12-6 movement.” However, they also noted concern with Lewis’ fastball velocity, which dipped as low as 84 MPH and topped out in the high-80’s. Said BA, “It remains to be seen how Lewis’ below-average velocity will work against more advanced hitters.”
In 2007, Lewis would move up to the Eastern League (AA), where he would continue to post impressive peripherals. He struck out 8.09 batters per nine innings and issued 2.27 BB/9. He posted a 3.48 FIP ERA in 134.2 IP. The main difference between Lewis’ 2006 and 2007 seasons was his home run rate. While the flyball-oriented hurler surrendered just 0.23 HR/9 in ’06, that figure increased to a more reasonable 0.87 HR/9 in 2007. Following the season, BA would actually knock Lewis down to 16th in the Indians’ farm system. Citing his finesse style and a loss of confidence in his once-promising curveball, BA noted that Lewis was a “command/control deceptive left-hander.” A guy with an 86-90 MPH fastball and a decent changeup, BA pegged Lewis as a “4th or 5th starter.”
Lewis would return to the Eastern League to begin the 2008 season, tossing 73.1 frames for Akron while compiling a 2.30 FIP ERA. Lewis’ K rate declined somewhat (7.49 K/9), but he walked next to no one (1.10 BB/9) and benefitted from a very low 0.25 HR/9. Cleveland would promote Lewis to AAA Buffalo in the second half of the season, where posted similar peripherals (7.88 K/9, 1.5 BB/9) and a 3.03 FIP ERA in 24 innings. He would also toss 24 innings in his big league debut, making a decent first impression by posting a 4.80 FIP ERA. Lewis struck out 5.63 hitters per nine innings and walked 2.25 per nine. In his time with Cleveland, Lewis’ fastball came in at an average of 87.3 MPH. In addition to the fastball and 78 MPH changeup, Lewis utilized a 77 MPH slider and a 73 MPH curve.
So, what can we expect of Lewis in 2009 and beyond? His minor league track record is quite good, but we are also talking about a guy who throws 87 MPH on a good day, with flyball tendencies to boot. Will hitters continue to flail at Lewis’ changeup, or will they learn to lay off of it and make him use his mild heater? Will the home run bug bite him at the highest level of competition? Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system offered an eclectic mix of possible outcomes for Lewis’ career before last season. Among Lewis’ most comparable players were Ted Lilly and Randy Wolf on the positive side, and Casey Fossum on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s probably best to take a wait-and-see approach with Lewis in 2009. Finesse, flyball lefties generally don’t fare well in the DH league.