CINCINNATI -- Outfielder Fred Lewis was a young Giants prospect at Spring Training on his way to the Minor League hotel when he ran into the team's former manager, Dusty Baker. Lewis, a second-round Draft pick in 2002, started his pro career with the Giants the same season that proved to be Baker's last in San Francisco. "I told him I hated not getting a chance to play for him," Lewis recalled. "He said, 'You never know. You might play for me one day.' Here we are. I'm very excited."
On Monday, Lewis signed a one-year, $900,000 contract to play for Baker's current club -- the Cincinnati Reds. He can serve multiple roles as either a leadoff hitter or a left-handed bat. "Of all the teams I got calls from, I thought Cincinnati was a great fit," said Lewis by phone from his home in Mississippi. "They have a bunch of young guys and not a bunch of huge egos. I still consider myself a young guy. I can contribute and do as much as possible." Lewis first met Baker through former Major League player Willie McGee, who coached Lewis in the Minors. When Lewis reached the big leagues, he eventually became the player that had the tough task of replacing Barry Bonds as the San Francisco left fielder in 2008. "[McGee] spoke highly of me to him," Lewis said. "When we played the Reds, we'd get to speak. I always wanted to play in Cincinnati and idolized Ken Griffey Jr. growing up. I always thought Cincinnati wouldn't be a bad idea for me." Perhaps that's a reason Lewis has always played well against the Reds, batting .415 (17-for-41) with two homers in 16 games. That includes a .350 average at Great American Ball Park. Lewis batted .262 with a .332 on-base percentage and 17 steals in 23 attempts for the Blue Jays last season. Looking to fill the voids at leadoff and the lefty outfielder for the bench, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty zeroed in on Lewis via the free-agent market. "Walt said it was a good fit, and I was excited when he told me Cincinnati was interested," Lewis said. "I put the other teams to the side and waited, and waited." The Reds liked Lewis' ability to play all three outfield spots and his speed. There is a chance he could form a platoon in left field with incumbent and right-handed power hitter Jonny Gomes. "I'm anxious to see what he can do. He'll be a fun guy to watch," Jocketty said of Lewis on Monday after the signing. Lewis was mostly a leadoff man in Toronto and throughout his Minor League career. When in that role, he's batted .271 lifetime with a .343 OBP and 38 steals. Last season, Reds leadoff hitters combined to bat only .244 with a .306 OBP. Already planning to arrive early at Reds camp in Goodyear, Ariz., Lewis is spending his remaining offseason weeks at home getting ready. And whether he bats first or further down in the order, his mind is fixed on a main personal goal. "You can look for me to steal a lot more bases," said Lewis, who had a career-high 21 steals in 2008. "I'm working a lot on my speed. I'm doing drills in the sand to make me faster. I'm improving with age. Every year, I find something to work on. I'm capable of stealing 30-plus bases every year. I really want 30 or more this year." The 2010 season wasn't the easiest one after a rib injury suffered with the Giants during Spring Training put him on the disabled list for Opening Day. He was subsequently traded to the Blue Jays on April 15. Eligible for arbitration for the first time after the season, he was non-tendered by Toronto in December and became a free agent. "I was prepared for anything. It wasn't disappointing. It's a business," Lewis said. "Now I'm back in the National League. I'm blessed."