SEATTLE — Listening to center fielder Kyle Lewis shortly after he signed his contract with the Mariners and took part Saturday in batting practice…maybe this was meant to be.
"I used to always wear a Mariners hat to high school," revealed Lewis, whom the Mariners selected Thursday with the 11th overall pick in the MLB Draft.
"I was always in pictures in a Mariners hat. So for me to be able to meet these guys, and for him to give me a bat, was a dream come true for me and a really humbling experience."
Lewis, 20, went to high school in Snellville, Ga., and later blossomed into a first-round talent at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
So…why a Mariners cap?
"I don’t know, man," he said. "It was something that just drew me to it. It drew me to the hat."
The Mariners didn’t expect Lewis to be available when they picked. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 4 prospect available. General manager Jerry Dipoto recalled hearing about Lewis from amateur scouting director Tom McNamara.
"He came into my office in Peoria (Ariz.) in March after coming back from seeing Kyle Lewis," Dipoto said. "He said, `Jerry, I just got back from seeing a kid at Mercer. I said, `Mercer?’
"And he said, `Yeah, Mercer. This kid can hit. He might be the best player in the country.’ The he started rolling through (the possibilities) and said, `He’s not going to be there.’ And he dejectedly put his head down and started to walk out.
"I said, `Mac, the draft is a funny thing.’"
The Mariners had a loose deal in place when they selected Lewis, who made it clear he was eager to start his career.
Lewis flew Friday to Seattle for a physical examination. When it revealed no concerns, he signed a deal for the MLB-assigned slot bonus of $3,286,700.
"I had the contract pretty much ready to go," Lewis said. "So I figured, `Why not?’ Let’s get up here and get going."
Plans call for Lewis to begin his pro career at Short-A Everett, which opens its season Friday at Tri-City (Padres). What hasn’t been determined is when. Lewis might head first to the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Ariz., for conditioning.
But club officials say it’s possible that Lewis might be with the AquaSox on Wednesday when they play their annual exhibition game against the city’s merchants.
Either way, Lewis can’t wait to get started.
"I have a lot of confidence in my ability," he said, "and what I’m able to bring to a team. For me, I just can’t wait to get working."
Felix Hernandez’s slow recovery from a strained left calf has reached that point that, whenever he begins throwing again, he’ll need to rebuild his stamina before rejoining the rotation.
That makes it unlikely that he will return prior to the All-Star break.
"It’s going to be more than just a couple of bullpens," manager Scott Servais said, "and then you fire him out there for 85 or 90 pitches. It’s going to take more than that with the amount of time he’s been down.
"You have to build him back up a little bit."
Hernandez hasn’t pitched since a May 27 loss to Minnesota.
"He got rechecked (Friday)," Servais said. "He is feeling a little bit better. It’s moving along as quickly as he’d hoped it would. No timetable yet on when he’s going to get out there."
MORE SIGNINGS NEAR
The Mariners also have loose deals in place with their second- and third-round picks: high school third baseman Joe Rizzo and San Diego shortstop Bryson Brigman.
Both deals are likely to exceed their slot allotments.
Rizzo has a scholarship commitment in place to attend South Carolina, which would enable him to re-enter the draft after his junior season. Top high school picks can often use the leverage of choosing college to exceed their bonus slot.
Brigman might have an even stronger negotiating position. A draft-eligible college sophomore, he can simply choose to remain at San Diego and re-enter next year’s draft if he doesn’t like the Mariners’ offer.
The Mariners created some negotiating flexibility Friday by choosing three college seniors in their first nine picks. College seniors have diminished negotiating leverage and often sign at below-slot prices.
Major League Baseball assigns a slot value to every pick through the 10th round, and a club’s bonus pool is the sum of those totals. The Mariners had $7,136,000 in their allotment.
Getting Lewis to agree to the slot bonus — $3,286,700 for the No. 11 overall pick — leaves the club with $3,849,300 in its pool allotment for its remaining nine selections from the first 10 rounds.
While clubs are permitted to exceed the slot value on any individual pick, there are penalties, including the loss of future draft picks, for exceeding their overall bonus pool.
How else should the Mariners spend their 24th-round pick in a year when the franchise’s iconic player, who wore No. 24, is going into the Hall of Fame?
The Mariners chose to draft Trey Griffey, whom they chose to list as a center fielder from the University of Arizona. Which is not the same as saying Griffey plays center field at the University of Arizona.
He doesn’t. Griffey is a wide receiver on the Wildcats’ football team.
But he is also the son of Ken Griffey Jr.
"We just felt we didn’t want another team to draft him," McNamara said. "We didn’t want another team to draft Ken Griffey Jr.’s son Trey. We have footage of him swinging the bat in high school.
"He came here a few times, and we saw him hit in the cage. We were like, `That’s a nice swing.’ Obviously, he’s a good athlete. He plays football at the University of Arizona.
"We just want him to know that if he’s ever interested in playing pro baseball, we have a job for him."
The Mariners also used their 37th-round pick to take catcher Eli Wilson of Garfield High School in Seattle. He is the son of Mariners Hall of Fame catcher Dan Wilson, who works for the club as a minor-league defensive coordinator.
"He’s probably going to go to college first," McNamara said. "But you can see a lot of his dad’s mannerisms in him. It’s kind of cool. He’s got a frame where he’s going to be a lot bigger and stronger. He’s very projectable."
The Mariners selected 28 other players Saturday as MLB Draft concluded its three-day run with rounds 11 through 40.
The Mariners traded right-handed reliever Justin De Fratus to Texas to complete the May 29 deal that returned utilityman Pat Kivlehan to the organization.
DeFratus, 28, was 2-2 with a 3.21 ERA in 19 games at Triple-A Tacoma after signing a minor-league deal with the Mariners on March 18 — two days after being released from his major-league contract.
The Mariners drafted Kivlehan, 26, in the fourth round of the 2102 draft but traded him to the Rangers on Dec. 2, 2015 as a player to be named later in a five-player trade on Nov. 16, 2015 that netted center fielder Leonys Martin.
Kivlehan entered Saturday batting .360 (9-for-25) in six games for Tacoma. He is batting .211 overall in 42 Triple-A games with two homers and 18 RBIs.
It was one year ago Sunday — June 12, 2015 — that Felix Hernandez had the worst start of his career in a 10-8 loss at Houston. He recorded just one out and gave up eight runs on five hits, two walks and his own throwing error.
Hernandez is currently on the disabled list because of a strained left calf. He is eligible to be activated Sunday but is not expected to return for at least two more weeks.
His outing of one-third of an inning against the Astros matched the shortest outing of his career. Hernandez also went one-third of an inning on April 18, 2007 against Minnesota.
The eight earned runs matched the second-highest total in his career. Hernandez gave up 10 earned runs last year over 2 1/3 innings on Aug. 15 in a 22-10 loss at Boston.
Hernandez made 31 starts last season and finished with a 3.53 ERA. Remove the start against Houston, and his ERA drops to 3.17. Remove the starts against Houston and Boston, and his ERA drops to 2.76.
The Mariners and Rangers complete their three-game weekend series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Left-hander Wade Miley (6-2 with a 5.27 ERA) will face Texas lefty Cole Hamels (5-1 and 3.32).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
The Mariners have an open date Monday before departing on their longest road trip of the season: 10 games. They play three games at Tampa Bay and three more at Boston before concluding their trip with a four-game series at Detroit.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
MARINERS ASSIGNED SLOT BONUSES
The Mariners have $7,136,000 is their bonus-pool allotment from Major League Baseball, which assigns a slot value to every pick through the 10th round.
Clubs can exceed the slot value for any individual pick, but there are penalties for exceeding their overall assigned allotment. Any bonuses in excess of $100,000 for picks after the 10th round also count against the allotment.
Here are the slot values for the Mariners’ picks.
First round (No. 11 overall): $3,286,700 (Mercer OF Kyle Lewis).
Second round (50): $1,252,100 (Oak Hill, Va., HS 3B Joe Rizzo).
Third round (87): $708,200 (San Diego SS Bryson Brigman).
Fourth round (117): $506,400 (Alabama LHP Thomas Burrows).
Fifth round (147): $379,000 (Oklahoma State SS Donnie Walton).
Sixth round (177): $283,800 (Millersville RHP Brandon Miller).
Seventh round (207): $212,700 (East Stroudsburg RHP Matt Festa).
Eighth round (237): $180,600 (Elon 3B Nick Zammarelli).
Ninth round (267): $168,900 (Illinois C Jason Goldstein).
10th round (297): $157,600 (Arizona State INF David Greer).
MARINERS 2016 DRAFT PICKS
Round Player B-T HT WT Age School
1 (11) OF Kyle Lewis R-R 6-4 210 21 Mercer
2 (50) 3B Joe Rizzo L-R 5-11 195 18 Oakton (VA.) HS
3 (87) SS Bryson Brigman R-R 5-11 180 20 San Diego
4 (117) LHP Thomas Burrows L-L 6-2 225 21 Alabama
5 (147) INF Donnie Walton S-R 5-10 174 22 Oklahoma State
6 (177) RHP Brandon Miller R-R 6-4 195 20 Millersville
7 (207) RHP Matt Festa R-R 6-2 195 23 East Stroudsburg
8 (237) UTL Nick Zammarelli L-R 6-2 193 21 Elon
9 (267) C Jason Goldstein R-R 5-11 195 21 Illinois
10 (297) INF David Greer R-R 6-1 209 20 Arizona State
11 (327) RHP Michael Koval R-R 6-1 180 21 Cal Poly Pomona
12 (357) LHP Timothy Viehoff L-L 6-4 210 22 Southern New Hampshire
13 (387) RHP Reggie McClain R-R 6-2 180 23 Missouri
14 (417) RHP Kyle Davis R-R 6-0 200 22 Southern California
15 (447) LHP Danny Garcia L-L 6-0 185 22 Miami
16 (477) C Lyle Lin R-R 6-1 200 18 Junipero Serra Catholic (Calif.) HS
17 (507) LF Dimas Ojeda L-L 6-1 195 20 McLennan CC
18 (537) RHP Robert Dugger R-R 6-2 185 20 Texas Tech
19 (567) CF DeAires Moses L-L 5-9 170 20 Volunteer State CC
20 (597) RF Eric Filia L-R 6-0 189 23 UCLA
21 (627) CF Austin Grebeck R-R 5-8 155 21 Oregon
22 (657) CF Jansiel Rivera L-L 6-1 205 17 Methuen (Mass.) HS
23 (687) RHP Jack Anderson R-R 6-3 210 22 Penn State
24 (717) CF Trey Griffey L-L 6-3 210 22 Arizona
25 (747) CF Ryan Fucci R-R 6-2 220 22 Wright State
26 (777) LHP Elliot Surrey L-L 6-0 190 22 Cal-Irvine
27 (807) RHP Paul Covelle R-R 6-0 205 22 Franklin Pierce
28 (837) RHP Nathan Bannister R-R 6-3 224 22 Arizona
29 (867) RHP Steven Ridings R-R 6-4 210 22 Messiah College
30 (897) CF Tyler Duncan L-R 6-4 190 17 Edward Milne (B.C) Secondary School
31 (927) RHP Lincoln Henzman R-R 6-2 205 20 Louisville
32 (957) RHP Kenyon Yovan R-R 6-2 220 17 Westview (Ore.) HS
33 (987) SS Morgan McCullough L-R 5-8 175 18 West Seattle HS
34 (1017) RHP David Ellingson R-R 6-2 200 21 Georgetown
35 (1047) RHP Will Ethridge R-R 6-5 190 18 Parkview (Ga.) HS
36 (1077) 2B Joseph Venturino R-R 6-0 185 21 Ramapo College
37 (1107) C Eli Wilson R-R 6-2 190 17 Garfield HS
38 (1137) RHP James Reilly L-R 6-3 200 18 Albertus Magnus (N.Y.) HS
39 (1167) SS Camryn Williams S-R 6-2 190 18 Gaither (Fla.) HS
40 (1197) C Adley Rutschman S-R 6-2 205 18 Sherwood (Ore.) HS