Name: Hak-Ju Lee
Notable 2011 Stats: .318/.389/.443 with 16 2B, 11 3B, 4 HR, 72/42 K/BB, and 28-for-42 SB in 97 games with Charlotte (High-A);
.190/.272/.310 with 1 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 22/11 K/BB, and 5-for-7 SB in 24 games with Montgomery (AA);
.292/.365/.416 with 17 2B, 15 3B, 5 HR, 94/53 K/BB, and 33-for-49 SB in 121 games total
Why He’s This High: Lee had a breakout performance in High-A at the tender age of 20 after being acquired as a main piece in the Matt Garza trade in the offseason. Scouts have long lauded his speed and defensive ability and projected he would hit as well, and he began to make those predictions look smart this season.
A lanky 6’2″ infielder, Lee already boasts a solid approach at the plate; he kept up a K/BB of 2/1 even after being promoted to Double-A. He doesn’t have that much power yet, but he did manage a .125 ISO in Charlotte, which is no mean feat for a 20-year-old middle infielder in the toughest pitcher’s league in baseball. Lee’s superb speed helps him beat out triples; he had 15 this year. He should be able to clear the fences ten times per year once he fills out.
Lee’s best tool remains his glove, as he has above-average range and a good throwing arm at shortstop. He fielded .967 at the position, so he still needs refinement, but that’s actually quite good for a 20-year-old shortstop–it’s not uncommon to see guys making 30 or 35 errors at the position in the lower minors.
Why He’s This Low: Lee couldn’t do much in Double-A after he was promoted there; that’s not all that much of a concern, but it does enough to drag his performance statistically below a number of other top prospects.
In particular, Lee’s kind of at an awkward stage in his hitting development right now–he’s big enough to have a fairly large strike zone, so he strikes out a fair amount, but he’s not bulky enough to hit the ball with authority. If he doesn’t grow into more power, he’ll need to shorten up his stroke to get his strikeout rate back down; it would be nice to see him strike out less than 15% of the time, which he’s never done.
While he boasts good speed, Lee has a lot of work to do on picking his spots to steal, as evidenced by his low success rate (33-for-49).
Conclusions: Lee shows some five-tool ability from the shortstop position, and he finished the low minors before his 21st birthday. However, there’s still a lot of roughness around the edges here. There’s little doubt that he should be able to start in the major leagues–his defensive ability alone should do that as long as he doesn’t completely collapse offensively–but there’s still a wide variety of outcomes possible for him.
If none of his offensive skills improve, he’d basically become the shortstop version of Ryan Sweeney–an eminently athletic player who makes some contact and runs pretty well, but doesn’t show much in the way of secondary skills. If his profile does develop, then he could become a lefthanded-hitting Yunel Escobar with better speed, which would be quite valuable. Since he seems to alternate between excellent and underwhelming at every stop of the minors, it would be nice to see him handle the jump to Double-A with aplomb next season.
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