KC Royals: Top prospect rewind, outfielder Khalil Lee

Kansas City Royals (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Kansas City Royals (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Let’s check in on the KC Royals’ third-round selection from the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft, rocket-armed outfield prospect Khalil Lee.

As the KC Royals continue their rebuild, an emphasis will be placed on prospect development. Welcome to the continuation of our “Top prospect rewind” series.

The subject of this article: Khalil Lee. The Kansas City Royals organization decided to use a third-round pick to take Lee in 2016 out of Oakton, VA. An outfielder that bats and throws left-handed, he was viewed as a two-way prospect heading into the draft. The Royals focused on developing him in the outfield, and thus the minor league career of Lee began.

Lee’s 2016 season in the Arizona League was impressive. Although a .269 batting average may not jump off the page, Lee’s on-base percentage (.396) was phenomenal. Walking 33 times in 49 games, Lee’s patience at the plate has been both a blessing and a curse throughout his career in the minors thus far.

After putting both his power and speed on display with the Lexington Legends in 2017, Lee spent a large chunk of his 2018 season with Advanced-A Wilmington before earning a promotion to AA Northwest Arkansas. On the season, he combined to hit for a .263/.382/.390 line and drove in 51 total runs. Lee’s walk numbers remained high, but so did his strikeouts — being sent back to the dugout 103 times in 100 total games that year.

Things didn’t get better for Lee, as he put forth a pitiful performance in the Arizona Fall League later in 2018. Hitting just .157 in 22 games, he struggled instead of gaining a much-needed confidence boost. Things would level off a bit, though, once the 2019 campaign rolled around.

Lee played with NWA for the entire 2019 season. With the Naturals in the Texas League, he hit .264 while walking 65 times in 129 games. He also hit eight home runs and finished second among all minor league players with 53 stolen bases. His speed was on display both on the basepaths and in the outfield, where he projects to be a plus defender with an elite arm.

Patience is a virtue but for Lee, it may also lead to some trouble down the line if he can’t fix his issues at the plate. What’s limiting his ceiling as a hitter is his willingness to sit back and take pitches that are hittable. His strikeout-heavy pedigree was on full display last season, as he did so 154 times on the year. Although it’s nice that he’s able to walk often enough to offset it a bit, pitching will only get better and better as Lee advances through the system.

Lee was hit by a pitch in this winter’s Puerto Rican Winter League, suffering a hand fracture and missing the remainder of the team’s games. He’ll be a full go for the spring, though, which is what matters the most. MLB Pipeline pegs him as the Royals’ fourth-best prospect, boasting tantalizing arm strength, great speed and impressive raw power. Baseball America ranks him seventh.

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Here’s to hoping Lee puts it all together and makes his MLB debut for the KC Royals at some point in the 2020 season!