I should tell you that I have a thing for outfielders that are toolsy, draw a lot of walks and strike out a ton. I’m not searching for the strikeouts, per se, they just always happen to be there. Estevan Florial was the poster child for this last season and might be my favorite hitting prospect right now. As we wade deeper into 2018, Khalil Lee might challenge him.
Lee is a 5-foot-10 lefty drafted in the third round of the 2016 draft. Back then, he was a two-way high school player, flashing above-average velocity from the left side. But his speed on the basepaths and innate bat speed and power encouraged the Royals to transition him to an outfielder where his plus arm would play in any spot.
In his age 17/18 season in rookie ball, he hit .269/.396/.484 with six home runs and eight stolen bases in 49 games. The organization liked what they saw and jumped him to Low-A, an aggressive move considering they skipped short-season ball. In the Sally league last season, he hit .237/.344/.430 with 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 121 games. It’s here that Lee began getting noticed. As an 18-year-old for half the season, he was performing well in a league where his competition was two years older. Fast-forward to this season, and he’s off to a blazing start in High-A, hitting an absurd .382/.512/.706 with two bombs and three steals.
Why I Like Him
For starters, speed and power players aren’t easy to come by. He was one of just three players in Low-A to have at least 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases (Fernando Tatis Jr and Jose Siri were the others) and one of just 14 players in all of minor league baseball. But simply being able to hit for power and steal some bases isn’t good enough sometimes, just ask Michael Gettys. Lee also has a strong approach at the plate. In 797 career plate appearances he owns a 13.4 BB%. For some context, the major league average is nine percent. Getting on base allows him to use his wheels, though I should caution that he’s A) not a true burner and B) still learning how to steal. Last season he got caught a whopping 18 times in 38 attempts. Worth noting he hasn’t been caught in three attempts this year, though. He maxes out as a plus runner right now and should downgrade to above-average as he fills out a little more.
Lee also has a natural uppercut to his swing that when coupled with his strong bat speed and barrel control gives him power to all fields and a penchant to putting the ball in the air, fitting right in with today’s emerging mold of hitters.
If you’re wondering what his swing looks like, take a look at this 2080 video below from this season. It’s a compact swing that’s quick through the zone.
His strikeouts remain a concern for now. He struck out 32 percent of the time last season and is at 33 percent in 2018. With a strong eye, though, some of his strikeouts are mitigated because he’s not boom or bust. In addition, the average major league strikeout rate continues climbing. In 2018, it’s sitting at 23 percent, which would shatter last year’s mark of 21.6 percent to become the highest all time. In other words, if he can’t ever lower it below 25 percent, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
All told, Lee is on pace for a 20-20 season and if he can improve his contact ability just a little bit as a 19-year-old in High-A, he’s going to be really valuable. Baseball Prospectus already ranked him 97th on their Dynasty 101 list. I ranked him 108th in my personal Top 125 two months ago and I’d sneak him into the top 100 if I re-ranked today. If you’re in a league with at least 150 prospects rostered, I’d move to add him. And if you’re in an OBP dynasty, he’s even more valuable.