Name: Khalil Lee
Weight: 170 lbs.
Acquired: Trade, February 10, 2021 (Kansas City)
Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 3rd round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Flint Hill School in Oakton, Virginia, Khalil Lee slowly worked his way up the Kansas City minor league ladder, spending time with the AZL Royals in 2016, the Low-A Lexington Legend in 2017, the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks and the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals in 2018. After hitting a combined .263/.382/.390 with 6 homers and 16 stolen bases that year and having a fair showing for himself in the Arizona Fall League, Lee not only began climbing the Royals top prospect list, but he also began garnering consideration as a top prospect in baseball. He had so-so showing for himself in 2019, hitting .264/.363/.372 with 8 home runs, 53 stolen bases in 65 attempts, and a 65:154 walk:strikeout ratio in 129 games with the Naturals, but was unable to build on that momentum as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 season to be cancelled. The outfielder put his downtime to good use, making some swing changes during his time at the Kansas City Royals alternate site at T-Bones Stadium in Kansas City that scouts and evaluations believed might allow him to realize his full potential.
On February 10, 2021, Khalil Lee was sent to the Mets in a complicated three-team trade between Kansas City, New York, and Boston. After going 0-16 in spring training, he was optioned to the Syracuse Mets, but only spent about a week there before getting his first major league call up. He did not actually appear in a game before being sent down a few days later but was called back up to Queens once again a few days later and actually began getting at-bats. Unfortunately for Lee, while he was starting to get at-bats thanks to the Mets’ dire injury situation, he was not getting hits. Before the Mets sent him back down to Syracuse, Lee went 1-18 in 11 games, striking out 13 times. He did not receive another call-up in 2021, but he certainly deserved another look, as all he did was hit from the time he suited up for Syracuse on June 1 until the end of the season. In 96 games for the Syracuse Mets following his demotion, Lee hit .275/.449/.511 with 14 home runs, 7 stolen bases in 15 attempts, and a 66:109 walk:strikeout ratio. On the season as a whole, he hit .274/.451/.500 in 102 games in Triple-A, slugging 14 homers, stealing 8 bases in 18 attempts, and walking 71 times to 115 strikeouts.
The 5’10”, 170-pound outfielder has a combination of speed and power that few players in the system possess. He stands square at the plate, holding his hands high. He swings using a toe tap timing mechanism and has a long-levered swing. The swing changes he made while at the Kansas City alternate site in 2020 saw him focus on pulling and elevating the ball and putting it in the air, and while he did succeed with that, as his pulled and fly ball rates increased by roughly 5% while his opposite field and groundball rates decreased by roughly 5%, the changes did nothing to help his alarming strikeout rate. He struck out 29.6% of the time in his 102 games with Syracuse in 2021 and had a comical 72.2% strikeout rate in his brief time with the Mets. While part of this because of his long, uppercutty swing, Lee also struggles to identify spin. He has a high degree plate discipline, not swinging at pitches he knows he will not be able to catch up to but struggles to react to movement and alter his bat path once he starts his swing. His big hacks have also impacted his home-to-first times, as he often posts below-average times for a left-hander as his follow through sometimes leaves him off-balance. Once he is on the basepaths, he can wreak havoc, as he has average-to-above-average speed.
Lee played all three outfield positions in 2021, but he profiles best as a right fielder at present. He has enough speed and range to play center, but still struggles reading the ball off the bat well and plotting the most efficient routes. His arm is an above-average asset and allows Lee to play right field with no difficulties. In the long run, Lee is more likely to stick in right than he is to stick in center, where he would an above-average defender.