The Royals farm system has gotten next to no love from the national media. Almost everyone has the Royals ranked as having a minor league system in the bottom 10 in all of baseball. While it’s true that the Royals lack prospects that could make an immediate impact in the next year or two, their are a couple of gems that are just waiting to be found among the ranks.
Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn, Josh Staumont, Richard Lovelady, A.J. Puckett, and Foster Griffin are all guys who I think could have an impact on the big league club by the end of 2018, but definitely by the beginning of 2019. While they may or may not have the “superstar” status dubbed on them by the national media, they could all be really solid MLB contributors.
There is one guy lower in the system that no one seems to be talking about that has more than caught my attention this summer.
19-year old Khalil Lee has put all 5 of his impressive tools on display at times this year, and has really given Dayton Moore and Royals fans something to be excited about. Lee was drafted in the 3rd round in last year’s draft and was a two-way buzz saw as a high schooler in Virginia. During his senior year he hit .471 with 6 HR and 11 SB, and had an ERA of 0.33 on the mound with 87 K to only 3 BB. That may be the most impressive stat line I’ve seen from a high school pitcher in a while, and the Royals thought so much of his bat that they drafted him as an outfielder.
Playing in his 2nd professional season at Low-A Lexington, Lee has slashed an impressive .252/.360/.466 in 290 at bats. He’s flashing impressive power with 13 HRs and a knack for the clutch with 45 RBI. His speed has allowed him to play an impressive RF for the Lexington Legends, and his 94 mph fastball has translated well to the outfield.
Lee’s raw tools have been impressive, but his maturity as a hitter may be even more impressive. If Lee finishes this season on his current pace, it will be the second time in two seasons that his OBP has finished over 100 points higher than his batting average. To put that into perspective, there are currently zero Kansas City Royals that are on pace to accomplish that feat in 2017. It’s not common that you find a 19-year old kid who displays both elite power and an elite ability to get on base. Khalil Lee currently ranks 3rd in the South Atlantic League in HR with 13. Darick Hall leads the league in HR with 17 but his OBP is .024 points lower than Lee’s.
What’s maybe more impressive is the speed in which Lee has been able to display along with his power. Khalil Lee has 16 SB so far in 2017, Darick Hall hasn’t stolen a one. Khalil Lee’s 16 stolen bases rank him 13th in the league. Of the 12 guys in the SAL with more SB than Lee, Max George is the only one even close to Lee in HR with 8. These numbers go to show Lee’s elite combination of speed and power that no one else at his competition level has shown so far.
Let’s recap. Khalil Lee ranks 3rd in the SAL in HR, 13th in SB, 1st in BB (!!!), 15th in RBI, and 15th in SLG%. These numbers are impressive in and of themselves, but did I mention to you that Lee is only 19? The two guys with more HR than Lee are 21 and 22. The median age level of the SAL is 22. Khalil Lee is 19. Lee is playing in a league that would normally be considered extremely advanced for someone his age. Lee is not only dominating on the field but is doing so at a rather unprecedented age.
You won’t find Khalil Lee at the top of many Royals prospect lists. He has seemingly flown under the radar during his two seasons of professional baseball and the Royals might prefer it that way. And hey, as long as no one comes calling for him during this trade season that is fine by me. Lee is, in my mind, easily the most undervalued player in the Royals system, and maybe one of the most undervalued prospects in baseball. He has shown rare skills that anyone would want from a corner OF prospect, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he debuts as early as 2020, when he will only be 21 years old.
Keep your eyes open for Lee, because you’re gonna wanna remember that name when he finally arrives in Kansas City.
Photo Credits: Clinton Riddle