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Getting to know Khalil Lee

Due to some nifty roster management, the Mets turned Steven Matz into Khalil Lee.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Chicago Cubs Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets, operating as one of the busiest clubs this offseason, finagled their way into their second three-team trade of the year last week. They acquired prospect Khalil Lee from the Royals, helping facilitate the Andrew Benintendi trade to Kansas City, while sending Josh Winckowski and a player to be named later to Boston.

Lee has been a long time member of the Royals minor league system—they drafted him out of high school in 2016—and he has worked his way up the totem pole to make it to Double-A in 2019. Obviously we did not get much information on him in 2020 due to COVID-19 cancelling the minor league season, and all developments were kept behind closed doors, though there were reports of a swing change at the alternate site that make this trade even more interesting. Not only did he make waves as a regular in the Royals top ten in terms of prospects, he also made the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 in 2019, coming in at 61.

Lee possesses elite speed, and has strong defense in center to go along with it, with an ability to shift to a corner if need be. This gives him an obvious floor as a speed and defense fourth outfielder, something the Mets have consistently tried and failed to get through trades and free agency for what seems like an eternity now. The bat is something that held him back, however, as he has a career .256/.366/.409 in 399 career minor league games, hardly anything to write home about. The on base percentage pops out immediately, but the average and slugging obviously lag behind. However, the aforementioned swing change is intriguing, and paired that with the eye he possesses is interesting.

While the swing change happened behind closed doors last year, there is video evidence of it, due to the Indios de Mayaguez twitter account, who Lee played for in the Puerto Rican Winter League this year.

The new swing, seen here, is markedly different than his old swing, seen here, and the change is massive. It has become more succinct and direct, as he eliminated some of the length that it had in previous years. It is something to keep an eye on, since his plate discipline, speed and defense are already impressive — add an improving bat to that, and you can see why the Mets were interested.

Lee also instantly becomes the closest outfield prospect to the majors in the organization. Here at Amazin’ Avenue, we had five outfielders in our top 25—Pete Crow-Armstrong, Isaiah Greene, Freddy Valdez, Adrian Hernandez, and Stanley Consuegra—the oldest of which is 20 (Consuegra), and Greene is currently in Cleveland’s minor league system. The top of the outfield depth was barren—do not be surprised if the 22-year-old Lee is in the majors before long.

The Mets turned Steven Matz into Khalil Lee, and Lee would easily slot into the Mets top ten prospects—MLB Pipeline has him at 7th—and personally, I would have him in a similar spot if I were making my list today.