Much like one of his lofty leaps at the wall, Kyle Lewis soared above the field.
The center fielder for the Seattle Mariners won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday night, and Milwaukee Brewers reliever Devin Williams took home the NL honor.
The 25-year-old Lewis received all 30 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He is the 12th unanimous winner of the AL award, joining a prestigious list that includes Carlton Fisk, Derek Jeter, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge.
“It’s just a great first step for me and being in that category, it’s just really special,” Lewis said.
Williams made his own history, becoming the first pitcher to win Rookie of the Year without recording a save or making a start during his award-winning season — reflecting the increased importance of the bullpen in today’s game. He is the first Rookie of the Year for Milwaukee since Ryan Braun in 2007.
“I don’t really think that saves are the end-all be-all,” Williams said on a conference call during a vacation in Jamaica. “If I come up in the seventh inning and I go through one through five, I think that that can be pretty valuable as well.”
The 25-year-old Lewis was one of baseball’s breakout stars during the pandemic-shortened season, batting .262 with 11 homers and 28 RBI in 58 games. He led big league rookies with 37 runs, 90 total bases and a .364 on-base percentage.
Lewis also made a couple of memorable plays in center, robbing Oakland’s Ramón Laureano of a grand slam on Sept. 14. He is the first player to win the award for Seattle since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
San Diego Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth and Philadelphia Phillies infielder Alec Bohm tied for second in NL balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert finished second in the AL race, followed by Houston Astros right-hander Cristian Javier.
Lewis and Robert had similar seasons, with fast starts followed by slow finishes. Lewis batted just .147 in September, and Robert hit .136 with 32 strikeouts in 23 games in the final month.
Lewis was selected by Seattle with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft out of Mercer University. He broke into the majors last year, appearing in 18 September games with the Mariners.
The Georgia native is the beginning of what could be a formidable young outfield in Seattle. Jarred Kelenic, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Mets, and Julio Rodriguez are ranked among baseball’s top prospects.
“I think we got a great chance to build a really strong core of guys, and those are two guys that are super talented. Top of the scale when you’re talking about talent,” Lewis said. “I think we really do have a great chance to turn into one of those rebuilding teams that ends up having a great group of guys move up together and progress together.”
Williams, a St. Louis native, was selected by Milwaukee in the second round of the 2013 draft. He had Tommy John surgery while he was in the minors and made his big league debut last year.
This season, Williams teamed with closer Josh Hader to form a shutdown tandem at the back end of the Brewers’ bullpen. He allowed one earned run in 22 appearances — a home run by Pittsburgh’s Colin Moran on July 27.
Featuring a devastating changeup and a four-seam fastball that gets into the upper 90s, Williams was practically unhittable. The 26-year-old right-hander went 4-1 with a microscopic 0.33 ERA, striking out 53 in just 27 innings.
The last reliever to take home the honor in either league was Craig Kimbrel for Atlanta in 2011.
Williams missed Milwaukee’s loss to the champion Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs because of shoulder soreness.
“I’m doing a little bit of rehab still, but it’s feeling good,” Williams said.
The Managers of the Year will be announced by the BBWAA on Tuesday night, followed by the Cy Young Awards on Wednesday and the MVPs on Thursday.
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