Howland’s Lewis drafted by Orioles

Special to Tribune Chronicle Howland High School graduate and former Seton Hill University baseball player Craig Lewis looks at a pitch during a game with Seton Hill. Lewis was selected in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Baltimore Orioles.

WARREN — It was after his freshman season at Seton Hill University that Craig Lewis began to truly believe he could play professional baseball.

Unfortunately for Lewis, he wasn’t able to play much baseball after a phenomenal freshman season. A broken hand and a torn hamstring limited him to less than 30 games during the next two years.

That didn’t stop scouts from noticing the potential of the 2016 Howland High School graduate. In fact, Lewis’ tools were so impressive, he was drafted in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday.

Lewis worked out for several teams over the past few weeks, and now fully healthy, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound outfielder flashed the speed, powerful bat and savvy defense that made him a rising star for the Griffins as a freshman.

“This is always something I’ve wanted to do,” he said of playing professionally. “When I got to college and had that first successful season, it kind of occurred to me that this could happen. I set my eyes on it, kept working and it finally did.”

Lewis was a star in high school for the Tigers, and he didn’t slow down as a true freshman at SHU, a Division II school in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Seton Hill’s leadoff hitter most of that 2017 season, Lewis tied for the team lead in batting average at .379. He was first in doubles (21), on-base percentage (.491), runs (59), second in stolen bases (28), slugging percentage (.593) and fourth in RBIs (33). As good as he was at the plate, his fielding may have been his best attribute, according to Griffins coach Marc Marizzaldi.

Despite the injury setbacks, Lewis’ skills are even better now.

“He was healthy in the fall, and we had a pro scout day, and he ran awesome and hit awesome,” Marizzaldi said. “With him, he has the tools, but seeing them in a game is a different story.

“His biggest asset is his speed. You’ll see it come out on the bases. You’ll see it on defense. Those tools are pretty special, and hopefully we’ll see those come out at the professional level.”

Lewis said he spoke to his regional scout with the Orioles shortly after his selection, but he’s still waiting to hear where he will be assigned.

One option could be the Aberdeen IronBirds, who play in the same Class-A short-season New York-Penn League as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. He’s holding out hope for a stint with the IronBirds.

“That would be awesome,” he said.

The whole experience has been pretty awesome for Lewis, a humble player who, like a lot of kids, always had the dream of playing in the majors. Unlike most, Lewis has continued to develop at every level.

He admits he’s not sure what happened to allow him to go from a good player to a great one, but that freshman year was a big step in the right direction. He matured physically and mentally, and suddenly he was doing things on a baseball diamond he had never done before.

“It kind of happened without me realizing,” he said. “I’ve always seen myself as the same type of player: just go hard all the time and have fun. The stats just kind of showed it for themselves.

“After my freshman year, we (the coaches and I) had some talks that, ‘Yeah, I think (playing professionally) could be a possibility for you, but you’ve got to keep working hard.’ I really took that to heart.”

His continued hard work didn’t exactly pay off the way he wanted.

A broken hand in 2018 led to him playing just 14 games, and a hamstring injury kept him out all but 13 contests this past season. Instead of sulking and giving up hope, Lewis kept working — anyway he could.

“Maybe not so much on the physical side but on the mental side,” Marizzaldi said of Lewis’ growth. “Even during that great freshman year, he still went through some of those mental mistakes that freshman go through.

“He learned the game from a different perspective when he was on the bench. He’s grown up and become smarter baseball player.”

The determined attitude led to special moment on Wednesday — a day he’ll never forget.

“It was pretty awesome,” Lewis said. “I had my whole family with me. We were kind of sitting there waiting. We had got a phone call, got an offer, accepted and then just had to wait for the pick to happen. Finally seeing my name pop up and hearing them announce it was pretty awesome. …

“Baseball has always been something I love to do, and I just love the game and the friendships I’ve made out of it, so I’m excited to see where it’s going to take me from here.”