Giants prospect Lewis drawing raves

Giants prospect Lewis drawing raves

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- His mom calls him Frederick -- usually when she's waggling a chastising finger at him, he says -- and he's also called Fred for short. But for informality's sake, Giants teammates prefer Freddie.

In a few seasons, however, odds are Freddie Lewis will be called a Major Leaguer.

The 25-year-old outfielder has gone through typical growing pains in the Minors, overcoming a hamate bone hook injury, then in the cold climes of Connecticut early last year, plugging away when he couldn't seem to unfreeze his baseball skills.

Lewis, one of the farm system's best overall athletes but still fairly raw, struggled to a .226 average over the first half, and his mood spiraled down with his slump.

The Eastern League is a fearsome Double-A loop, pretty intense, so there were adjustments to be made.

And Lewis made them with the help of the then-Navigators (now Defenders) coaches, as well as Giants Minor League hitting instructor Bob Mariano, who said Lewis listened, learned and produced.

"He got off to one of the worst starts of any of our Minor League guys," said Mariano. "Dick Tidrow [VP of player personnel] had me go there to work with him. We made some adjustments with his hands he had gotten away from."

The tweaking -- Lewis moved his hands farther and higher from his body -- didn't take long, and in the warm weather the left-hander began hammering the ball.

"He caught fire and hit some balls harder than I've seen in 25 years," said Mariano. "He was playing like a big leaguer for 16 straight days and got his confidence going."

Lewis raised his average 47 points over the final months, finishing with a respectable .273 mark and a career-high 47 RBIs.

This spring, Freddie has been looking strong and drawing raves from Giants observers. He admits he's a different player from a few years ago.

"I feel, when I first got here, I wasn't ready at this level," said Lewis, a native of Hattiesburg, Miss., in his third San Francisco camp. "I know in my heart I'm ready to play here, but it's not up to me. I haven't faced big-league pitching that much, but I'm looking to get my chance, get my feet wet, and show them what I've got."

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What Lewis has is speed -- he has stolen 93 bases the past three Minor League campaigns -- and more experience and offensive know-how. He's displayed the latter by using his lower body at the plate, boosting his power considerably.

Watching Barry Bonds and other Giants left-handed hitters in action drove the use-your-legs more point home.

"I came into camp trying to do that, using more of the bottom half, driving the ball and putting more behind it," said Lewis, expected to start at Triple-A Fresno this season. "It's been working. It feels like the ball is jumping off the bat. It may look like I'm overswinging, but I'm not."

Now on the Giants' 40-man roster, Lewis led his teams in runs and stolen bases each of his first three pro years and was second for Norwich in 2005.

Lewis' once-raw ability has improved steadily, although detractors still note the excessive strikeouts -- 124 Ks in 137 games last season. The Giants remain high on the prospect, and Lewis is determined to get better.

"I feel I've learned the game more," Lewis said, "and I'm still learning about hitting and running, knowing when to move the runner over, which base to throw to from the outfield.

"Right now, I'm on an all-time high. There's no pressure here and I'm more relaxed than ever. I was afraid of some guys at first, but I'm adjusting."

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.