You guys really like Khalil Lee, huh? Within minutes of asking fans on Twitter which Royals prospect they wanted to see a comp for next, the vote was so heavily in the favor of Khalil Lee that it wasn’t worth voting for anymore. I removed him from the poll, where Richard Lovelady wound up winning, and as promised, went to work on research for Khalil Lee.
Khalil Lee is a fascinating prospect. He ranks 12th among all players in Spd (speed score) to play in the Carolina League this year and first among qualified hitters in BB%. Through his first two minor league seasons, Kahlil Lee ran up an impressive .199 ISO (isolated slugging) and hit 23 HR in 754 PA, good for a rate of one HR per 32.8 PA. He also struck out in 30.3% of his PA over those two seasons. In 2018 however, he’s cut his K% down to 25.4% between High-A and AA, and he’s actually walking more than ever at 15.1% on the season. On the negative side of things, his ISO is also down to a rate of 118.4. On the positive side of things, he’s improved his SwStr% immensely, from 27.3% in the AZL in 2016 to 12.7% since.
Had enough yet? Good. I haven’t even started yet.
So you get the idea. Khalil Lee has a ton of talent and a great eye at the plate. He’s cut down significantly on his swings-and-misses and his strikeouts, but he’s had to sacrifice a lot of power to do so. Then again, he’s playing in an awful hitting environment in Wilmington so maybe we can attribute a lack of power to a pitcher’s park? In any case, all of these moving factors have made things incredibly difficult to find a reasonable comp for Khalil Lee who just recently turned 20 years old.
Let’s start off by comparing Khalil Lee to other players since 2007 that have performed similarly with individual statistics. Hopefully by the end there will be 1-2 names that appear semi-frequently.
* Note: I am writing this article as I am doing the research, so I’ll be just as surprised as you every time we evaluate something new.*
As a 19-year old playing in the Carolina League this summer, Khalil Lee posted a BB% of 15.9%. The third highest rate of any 19 or 20-year old ever with 250 PA in the Carolina League. Here’s a list of other players since 2007 similar in age to post a similar BB% as Lee:
- Chase Vallot: 20 YO, 18% BB%
- Trent Grisham: 20 YO, 17.2%
- Khalil Lee: 19 YO, 15.9%
- Nick Weglarz: 20 YO, 15.6%
- Braxton Davidson: 20, 13.8%
- Nicky Delmonico: 20 YO, 13.7%
That’s your list. That’s everyone within 2.2% of Khalil Lee. Khalil Lee was the only one to be promoted in the middle of his season. The other five guys on that list all played their entire seasons in the CAR League. Among those six players, three posted a wRC+ similar to Lee, while Grisham and Davidson were both significantly less valuable overall at the plate. Nicky Delmonico is also the only one of the bunch with any MLB experience, and he owns a 111 career wRC+. So not much to go off of there. Still, Lee’s plate discipline is impressive.
Here’s a list of players age 19-20 to post a similar-ish wRC+ as Khalil Lee since 2007:
- Xander Bogaerts, 2012: 144
- Chance Sisco, 2015: 140
- Freddie Freeman, 2009: 139
- Chase Vallot, 2017: 136
- Khalil Lee, 2018: 134
- Nick Weglarz, 2008: 130
- Jose Peraza, 2014: 129
- Rougned Odor, 2013: 129
- Nicky Delmonico, 2013: 126
That’s every player within 10 points of Lee. Guys just above Khalil Lee are really impressive names and Chase Vallot. Guys below him are more “meh.”
The only names to appear on both lists? Khalil Lee, Chase Vallot, Nicky Delmonico, and Nick Weglarz. Royals fans have done a great job with constantly reminding me that Chase Vallot is slumping this season but he’s on the lists. Nick Weglarz’ career was shortened by injuries and he never made it to the big leagues despite destroying every level of the minors. Nicky Delmonico looks like our best comp so far, but I’m going to keep digging.
Maybe swings and misses and bring us closer to a big leaguer that compares favorably with Khalil Lee. This list is composed of players that posted a wRC+ within 13 points of Lee, a BB% within 5%, AND a SwStr% within 3%:
- Chase Vallot: 18% BB%, 136 wRC+, 14.7% SwStr%
- Carter Kieboom: 12.6%, 147, 10%
- Nicky Delmonico: 13.7%, 126, 14.7%
- Khalil Lee: 12.8%, 134, 12.8%
Our list grows even shorter. Hey there, Nicky Delmonico. The problem with a Nicky Delmonico comp for Khalil Lee is that Delmonico posted a .226 ISO in his time in the Carolina League, nearly 100 points higher than Khalil Lee. We all know why Chase Vallot and Nicky don’t compare well (absurd K%, lack of a position/athleticism), so let’s go ahead and compare Lee’s overall time in High-A to that of Delmonico and Carter Kieboom.
Khalil Lee: 301 PA, 4 HR, 13 2B, 4 3B, 14 SB, 15.9% BB%, 24.9% K%, .135 ISO, .270/.402/.406/.810, .381 wOBA, 134 wRC+, 12.8% SwStr%, 26.9% LD%
Nicky Delmonico: 263 PA, 13 HR, 12 2B, 0 3B, 5 SB, 13.7% BB%, 22.4% K%, .226 ISO, .243/.350/.469/.819, .372 wOBA, 126 wRC+, 14.7% SwStr%, 16.1% LD%
Carter Kieboom: 285 PA, 11 HR, 15 2B, 0 3B, 6 SB, 12.6% BB%, 17.5% K%, .196 ISO, .298/.386/.494/.880, .400 wOBA, 147 wRC+, 10% SwStr%, 20.5% LD%
Carter Kieboom separates himself from Khalil Lee in a couple of places here. One is the K% and SwStr%. Kieboom has very good contact skills for a 20-year old kid who is already in AA, and, granted, he’s 10 months older than Lee, but still, the bat-to-ball skills outclass Lee. Then you get into the power numbers and while Lee does a better job of getting on base and is a faster runner, Kieboom’s offensive profile is overall a bit better than Lee. With that being said, Carter Kieboom would be a great outcome for Lee. He’s just not quite there yet.
Nicky Delmonico, man. He performed really really well in 2017, posting a 132 wRC+ and hitting 9 HR in 43 games. He got off to a bit of a slow start in 2018 before hitting the DL with a hand injury. He’s currently on a rehab assignment and should be rejoining the White Sox soon. He’s already 26 years old and didn’t quite climb the minor league ladder as fast as I’m sure the Royals would like Khalil Lee to, but he’s also dealt with injuries in the past (104 total games in 2014 and 2015) that slowed his development. When healthy, the kid has actually been pretty good.
Delmonico, while posting some similar numbers as Khalil Lee in the minors, is a bit of a different player. Delmonico is a much bigger person than Lee, standing 6′ 2″ 230 lbs. to Khalil Lee’s 5′ 10″ 170 lbs. He also doesn’t run as well and is almost strictly a corner OF, while Lee has a legitimate shot to stay in CF long-term. I wouldn’t doubt it if Lee’s speed and slightly favorable walk rates would be enough to make up for what Delmonico has over Lee in terms of power.
Delmonico posted 1 fWAR in 43 games last season, which was on pace for 3.6 fWAR over 600 PA. There were only 51 hitters in baseball last season that posted 3.6 fWAR. He also rated fairly “meh” in LF and has a very average arm. Given Khalil Lee’s defensive prowess, strong arm, and similar offensive outputs, I would certainly be pleased if Lee turned in a career average similar to Delmonico’s 2017 season, minus the injuries.
Khalil Lee’s elite on-base abilities combined with his speed separate him from plenty of folks at similar levels. He walks like a power hitter and runs like a leadoff hitter. Pretty good combination for a leadoff hitter. Lee has been leading off a lot for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals, a position I’d like to see him stay in long-term. He is going to be so much fun to watch when he gets to Kansas City.