Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Zach Lewis, an undrafted righthander who excelled for the Kannapolis Intimidators in 2018. He’s a member of what I call the White Sox Zach Pack, a list of high-ranked Zachs (or Zacks) including Zach Thompson, Zack Burdi and Zack Collins. While Lewis is the least recognized of these prospects, he shouldn’t be disregarded.
Zach Lewis (SP) Kannapolis Intimidators
Zach Lewis, a native of Palos Heights and student of St. Laurence H.S. in Burbank, had an inconsistent four-year career in the collegiate ranks. His first two years were spent as a reliever for Wabash Valley Community College, where he followed up a sensational freshman season (1.84 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 2.76 BB/9, 5.11 H/9, and 9.51 K/9, and drafted but unsigned by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 33rd round) with a disappointing sophomore one (6.23 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 4.41 BB/9, 11.16 H/9, and 7.91 K/9).
Lewis transferred to NCAA powerhouse Wichita State but ultimately struggled in his junior season, splitting his time in starting and bullpen roles for the Shockers (5.96 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 3.28 BB/9, 9.24 H/9, 8.03 K/9 — almost exact split results between his freshman and sophomore seasons).
Finally, in his collegiate swan song as primarily a starter, Lewis enjoyed a 3.07 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 3.51 BB/9, 6.59 H/9, and 7.64 K/9. However, due to his inconsistencies and relative inexperience as a starter, he went undrafted in 2017 but ultimately signed a minor league free agent deal with the White Sox.
Lewis joined southpaw John Parke to form a terrific 1-2 punch at the top of the AZL White Sox rotation in 2017. In 12 games (eight starts), he compiled a 2.72 ERA and 1.11 WHIP by allowing just 46 hits (.241 OBA) and 13 walks (6.1%), with 45 strikeouts (21.0 K%) over 53 innings.
He began at Kannapolis in 2018 as a reliever behind a stacked rotation that included Kade McClure, Blake Battenfield, Lincoln Henzman, Parke and Parker Rigler. However, due to a combination of promotions and injuries, Lewis was reinstated into a starting role, where he excelled. For the Intimidators, Lewis compiled a 2.60 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 103 2⁄3 innings (29 games, 16 starts) while allowing just 69 hits (.189 OBA) and 48 walks (11.2%) and striking out 103 (24.1%). Thus, it appears Lewis was effectively wild, as he walked more hitters but allowed far fewer hits, while considerably improving his strikeout percentages.
Taking a closer look, Lewis was especially dominant in his final 10 starts, posting a 1.93 ERA and 0.98 WHIP and allowing just 36 hits and 19 walks, with 64 strikeouts over a total of 56 innings. What’s especially notable is that Lewis’ control did improve considerably as the season progressed.
Lewis, who has a prototypical starter’s build of six-foot-three and 195 pounds, throws from a three-quarters angle and significantly across his body, which provided a good degree of deception — especially to righties. According to Baseball Census, Lewis’ four-seam fastball maxes out at 92 mph but typically runs from 89-91, with some mild cutting action. He also features a two-seam fastball, which has terrific sinking action going away from lefties and in to righties, and runs a couple of ticks slower than his four-seamer. Lewis’ best pitch is arguably his curveball, which typically runs 75-78 mph and has an 11-to-5 break on its best days. Lewis’ changeup is nearly as effective as his curveball, as it offers a nice speed variation (80-83 mph) from the fastball, and reduces the damage lefties typically wreak against three-quarter pitchers.
Lefties have batted just .201 against Lewis’ offerings over the past two years, while righties fared only slightly better, at .217. His career ground out/fly out ratio is excellent, at 1.69, which is a great indicator that Lewis keeps his pitches down.
Scouts say Lewis has a bulldog mentality and isn’t afraid to pitch to contact, which should keep his pitch count down. While I’ve seen some scouting reports saying he has more control than command, I actually feel it’s the opposite. He did walk his fair share of hitters in 2018, but he didn’t allow much hard contact (six homers).
Lewis should begin 2019 with Winston-Salem, with a chance for promotion to Birmingham around the All-Star break if all goes well. At 23, Lewis was about a year older than league average in Kannapolis, so if he makes it Birmingham by the end of the 2019, he should be around league-average age for the Barons.
I like the idea of him extending his innings to see what he can do as a starter. He strikes me as having back-end rotation possibilities due to his control, mentality, size and pitching repertoire. Lewis has a difficult path to make it to the White Sox, as there’s certainly a plethora of young talent ahead of him. With that said, he best profiles as a valuable spot starter or long reliever at the major league level, providing he continues his success in the minors.