Lewis catching on quickly at pro level

Howland grad was drafted by Orioles in June

Special to Tribune Chronicle Howland High School graduate Craig Lewis is off to a strong start in the Gulf Coast League. He was drafted in last month’s MLB Draft out of Seton Hill University.

After Craig Lewis was selected in last month’s Major League Baseball Draft, he had a few days to relax before the Baltimore Orioles informed the Howland High School product he would be going to Sarasota, Fla.

When he arrived in Florida, he handled some paperwork, took a physical and had a meeting with the manager of the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League team, Alan Mills.

It was kind of a meet-and-greet between the manager and one of the franchise’s new players.

“In the meeting, it was just kind of them getting to know me and me telling them about the type of player that I am and the way I like to play the game,” said Lewis, who was a junior at Seton Hill University when he was picked in the 33rd round. “They told us pretty straight forward that for the first three weeks to a month, they’re just going to watch us play and see how we play the game, and if they think there are areas where we could use improvement, then they would step in and say, ‘Hey, I think you could be doing this better.’ “

Just a few weeks in to his professional career, Mills and his staff are probably having a tough time finding areas for Lewis to improve.

The 22-year-old outfielder has eight hits in his first 14 at-bats — a .571 batting average. Throw in a stolen base, a double, two RBIs and four runs scored, and Lewis couldn’t ask for much more. He was admittedly nervous on his flight from Akron, but his mindset changed soon after the games started.

“My first at-bat, I ended up striking out, but then the next three straight at-bats after that I had a hit,” he said. “So, it was kind of like, ‘OK, I got the first one out of the way. There’s nothing to be nervous about. You’re playing the same game you’ve played for the last 15-16 years.’ “

So far, Lewis the simple approach has worked well.

Despite this being a dream come true, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Lewis isn’t looking at the big picture or putting too much pressure on himself. He understands what’s at stake, and Lewis is focusing on the game, not the “dream.”

“There was an adjustment that had to be made,” said Lewis of going from a Division II college to the professional level.

“It’s not a big adjustment, but they say the game moves quicker at every single level, and you can definitely see that between college and professional.”

The speedy Lewis is making a minor position change, moving from center field at Seton Hill to left field with the Orioles. The transition has been mostly smooth, he said. The only real difference is that the ball will “hook” off the bat of right-hander hitter and “slice” off a lefty, but “it’s not a very hard adjustment,” Lewis said.

Maybe of more difficulty is the living situation. Aside from literally living out of a hotel, Lewis said the temperature is between 90 and 95 degrees every day, and when the humidity is taken into account, he estimated the daily temperature is above 100.

“It’s taking some getting used to,” Lewis said with a laugh.

The 2016 Howland graduate isn’t sure how long he will be in the Gulf Coast League, which he said is the lowest level of rookie ball. He could stay there for the entirety of the season or be promoted. One possibility down the line is the Aberdeen IronBirds, Baltimore’s short-season Single-A affiliate, which plays in the same league as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

Lewis isn’t concerned with what’s next. He’s enjoying the moment and taking on any challenges that come his way.

“I was a little bit nervous flying down there, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I knew exactly what I was getting myself into when I made this decision,” he said. “I’ve loved every single bit of it. All in all, this whole experience is definitely going to make me a better person, and I’m excited to see where it takes me.”

So far, it looks like he’s heading in the right direction.