MLB Black Knights swept the 2020 Rookie of the Year awards. The soul sweep is further proof that the Black athlete is reconnecting with the sport of baseball at the grassroots level on up to the Major Leagues.
It’s the first time that African-American diamond miners have swept the award since 1984 when hit machine Alvin Davis won the American League honor and the legendary “Dr. K” Dwight Gooden stormed the MLB scene like a comet from baseball heaven, electrifying crowds with his phenomenal fastball and a wicked 12 to 6 curve, dubbed “Lord Charles” by legendary Mets announcer Tim McCarver.
Doc’s ability to make bats miss was iconic, nearly lifting the Mets to an NL pennant his first season in the rotation.
Kyle Lewis Giving Torii Hunter Vibes
Seattle Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis beat out Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Roberts to win the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year on Monday, earning all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
He is the 12th player to win by a unanimous vote and the first sEattle player to win the honor since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. Roberts received 83 points followed by pitcher Cristian Javier of the Houston Astros (11 points).
The 25-year-old Lewis hit .262 with a .364 OBP, 11 home runs, 28 RBI and five steals in 58 games. Seattle boasts the deepest talent pool of African-American players in baseball and had high expectations for Lewis entering the COVID-19 abbreviated season after he launched six homers in 18 games in his September 2019 debut.
Lewis didn’t disappoint, leading all rookies in home runs (tied with Robert), runs (37) and walks (34).
The Mariners selected Lewis with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft. He suffered a torn ACL just 30 games into his first professional season, slowing his path to the majors, but he’s arrived and he’s leaving no doubt that he belongs.
Most of the Black players in MLB are centerfielders, so it’s not mindblowing that Lewis becomes just the third African-American to win the award since Ryan Howard in 2005. Black pitchers, however, have become an endangered species in MLB. So to see Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Devin Williams win it in the American league is truly an inspiration and a sign of things to come.
Devin Williams Raises the Market For Setup Closers
Williams received 14 of 30 first-place ballots cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and finished with a total of 95 points. Philadelphia third baseman Alec Bohm was second with nine first-place votes and 74 points, San Diego infielder Jake Cronenworth finished third.
“I can’t put it into words; it doesn’t feel real right now, to be honest,” Williams said on the announcement show on the MLB Network.
No reliever had won a Rookie of the Year award since Craig Kimbrel for Atlanta in 2011, and no reliever ever had won in either league without recording at least one save.
Williams’ award is a sign of the times and how deeply MLB values relievers now.
Williams, 26, was dominant as the setup closer for Josh Hader. He shined with his high 90s heat and a ridiculous changeup that stifled the game’s best hitters to the tune of an unhittable 0.33 earned run average in 22 appearances to go along with a 4-1 record.
His K rate was off the charts, finishing with 53 in 27 innings for a historic ratio of 17.6 per nine innings. In addition, Williams led all major-league relievers with a 0.63 WHIP and .090 opponents batting average.
Many considered Williams’ changeup, which was given the nickname “Airbender,” the most untouchable pitch in the majors. Hitters went 2 for 62 (.032) against it with 41 strikeouts.
To put Williams’ magnificence into perspective, he allowed just one earned run all season on a home run in the fourth game of the season. Just call him the head knocker because he was lights out.
Shoulder soreness prevented Williams from pitching for Milwaukee in the playoffs and it cost them big as the Brewers fell to the Dodgers in two games.
Hopefully, he comes back healthy in 2021 and continues to bless us with his potent pitching. There aren’t too many brothers that toss heat like Doc Gooden and drop offspeed gems like Greg Maddux. CC Sabathia retired, David Price opted out of the season and is getting up there. Marcus Stroman needs to stay healthy. Chris Archer‘s star is fading and Taijuan Walker isn’t quite there yet.
Williams isn’t a starter but he’s still must-see TV as a reliever and has considerable value considering the way pitching staffs are constructed and used now — by committee.
Kyle Lewis Was Anointed A Future Star Back in 2018
Lewis was part of a watershed moment in the rebirth of Black baseball, driven by MLB’s diversity initiatives. He was one of 8 Uber-talented African-American players that participated for the US Team in the Sirius Future Games during MLB All-Star festivities in Washington DC in 2018.
The team was managed by five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter. The game featured 19 of baseball’s Top 100 Prospects and most of them displayed speed, power, defensive ability, and personality. Lewis was part of history as he helped the US Team defeat the World Team for the ninth time in ten years.
We saw an eclectic group of players on the field,” said MLB Network analyst and former MLB player Harold Reynolds. So many people are talking about the numbers (of African-American baseball players) are down. I think this will start a trend.”
It did, as several of the Black players to participate and show out in that game are now excelling at the MLB level and helping to raise the percentage of African-American players comprising MLB rosters (Currently at about 7.9 percent).
LA Angels speedy outfielder Jo Adell, the No. 11 overall pick of the 2017 Draft, got a taste of The Bigs this season and showed flashes of brilliance.
San Diego Padres multi-tool killer Buddy Reed, a charismatic and energetic center fielder from the Bronx who was selected in the second round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft, by Oakland, hit 14 homers and stole 23 bases in Double AA ball in 2019.
“Touki” Toussaint, who moved to Haiti at the age of three and then back to the states at six years old, joined Reds top prospect Hunter Greene and former Yankees prospect Justus Sheffield, — who went 4-3 with a 3.58 ERA in 10 starts for the Mariners this season — as the three African-American pitchers on the U.S. Team.
Touki was originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He has 107 K’s in 95 career innings pitched and is expected to be a big part of the Braves’ pitching future.
Ke’Bryan Hayes is another young Black Knight who participated in The Future Games. Hayes, son of 1996 Yankees World Series champion Charlie Hayes, hit one of the eight homers launched in that game.
The third baseman’s also hit the ground running since being called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020. Hayes hit 5 homers, batted .376 with an OBP of .442, and slugged .682 in 24 games (85 AB). He should be the leading ROY candidate next year.
All of these young Black Knights give Black baseball something to be proud of and a glimpse into the future of the game.