Taylor Lewis is living his dream.
The former University of Maine center fielder was drafted in the 10th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates last June and received a reported $100,000 bonus to sign with them and pass up his senior year.
“I love pro ball,” said Lewis. “It’s a grind but, at the same time, I’m getting paid to play baseball. What else is better than that? It has always been a dream of mine and I’m living it right now.”
He spent last summer with State Park (Pa.) of the New York-Penn League and hit .188 with a double, seven triples and 16 stolen bases in 20 attempts. He struck out 43 times and drew 34 walks in 186 at-bats.
He recorded six outfield assists and committed only one error.
He is currently in Bradenton, Fla. with the Pirates’ extended spring training team.
Although he struggled, average-wise, last season, he said it was a productive year in that he got acclimated to professional baseball.
“One of the biggest things I learned at State College is you want to be in a hitter’s count so you can swing at your pitch and not the pitcher’s pitch,” said Lewis.
He also learned that he needs to be a situational hitter in pro ball.
“It’s a whole different ballgame. You need to move runners into scoring position [instead of just trying to drive the ball],” said the Montville, Conn., native.
He said pitchers in pro ball mix up their pitches more than college pitchers so hitters have to adapt.
“I feel like I’ve made that adjustment. I’m starting to understand the game a lot more,” he said. “I feel like I’m coming along. I’m comfortable at the plate and I’m hitting well.”
He also feels he has made “huge strides defensively” thanks to the tutelage of the Pirates coaches.
On the Pirates’ Prospects Player Pages, it was written that Lewis “got off to a miserable start at State College, hitting .105 in June, and never really broke out of it. He drew a lot of walks and had only slightly more walks than strikeouts, but a little less than one strikeout every four ABs is a lot for somebody who’s not hitting for much power. Lewis did show very good speed, between the triples and the steals.”
It also said that because Lewis didn’t play in a major conference, he “may just need more time to acclimate to pro ball than some college hitters. The high walk and strikeout totals suggest he may need to get a little more aggressive.”
Lewis thoroughly enjoyed playing in State Park.
“It’s a beautiful ballpark and we always got a ton of fans. My host family was great,” said Lewis.
He is hoping he will eventually be sent to the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League or Bradenton of the Florida State League. Both are Class A baseball although Bradenton is the high Class A franchise.
“Obviously, I would like to be in Bradenton or West Virginia but I’m getting at-bats every day down here and I’m working on a few things,” said the 22-year-old Lewis, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the America East Tournament last season and led Maine to the title and a berth in the NCAA Regionals.
The speedy Lewis, who set school and America East records with 13 triples two years ago and holds the school career record with 20 triples, hit .287 with three homers, 28 RBIs, five triples, 44 runs scored and 20 stolen bases in 24 attempts for Maine last season.
He hit .369 with five homers, 52 RBIs and 14 doubles to go with his 13 triples two years ago. He stole 21 bases in 22 attempts.
One of the parts of his game he is developing is his bunting.
“Bunting has become a huge part of my game,” said the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Lewis, a left-handed hitter who is hitting lead-off. “I’ve really worked hard on it. I didn’t bunt that often at Maine. I have confidence I can bunt for a hit.”
The threat of a bunt forces the corner infielders to play in and that gives Lewis more hitting room.
“When they come in, I can drive the ball by them,” said Lewis.
But he was also quick to point out that the Pirates don’t want him to become a slap hitter.
“That’s not the direction they want me to go in,” explained Lewis. “They want me to drive the ball hard.”
Lewis said they play games six days a week and get Sundays off.