MiLB Prospect Season in Review: Hak-Ju Lee
Over the next week or so (or until I get bored of doing it), I’m going to review the 2010 season for a number of the Cubs’ top prospects. These reviews will be in no real order, and it is possible I forget a key guy or two, but hopefully they accomplish something.
Lee played the entire year, his age 19 season, at Low-A Peoria. He’s a left handed batter that projects to be a top of the order hitter in the Major Leagues, and was the Chief’s leadoff man all season long. His speed and defense are the two most talked about skills he has, and it would appear that the hope is he can develop his bat as he moves up the minor league system.
Keeping in mind he is just 19, and this was just his second season of professional American baseball, I have to say Lee had a solid year. He finished with a slash line of .282/.354/.351/.704. That doesn’t look very good at first, especially the lack of slugging, but considering the brutal first two months of the season for Lee (.250 BA in April, .262 in May), the improvement in the second half is very encouraging.
Even better, considering he’s a left handed batter, is that the splits say he can hit both left handed and right handed pitching. How many left handed hitting prospects don’t make it because they can’t hit lefties? He took 49 walks, a decent number, against 86 strikeouts. While it would be nice to see a higher OBP, the reality is a lead off guy with a .350+ OBP is perfectly fine, especially if he’s not striking out a ton.
Lee’s biggest offensive weapon is his speed, he’s probably the fastest guy in the system, and he showed it a little this season with 32 steals in 39 attempts. It is nice to see a player in the Cubs’ system not only stealing bases, but stealing them efficiently. As he gets older, I would expect the number of steals to go up, but if he winds up being a 35-40 steal guy with an 82% success rate, that works just fine.
Defensively, Lee is supposed to turn out to be special. His speed gives him great range, and scouting reports say he has a rocket arm as well. So far though that great defense hasn’t been fully realized. In 118 games at shortstop this season Lee committed 34 errors. Of course we know that using errors to judge defense isn’t totally fair, but that high a number shows Lee has plenty of improving to do. Luckily he’s just 19, so he has plenty of time. If the errors are a product of superior range, that is great, because I’d rather teach accurate throws than have a shortstop with limited range.
There is no reason Lee shouldn’t be promoted to High-A Daytona next season. I still have him as a Top 7 prospect in the system, and based on what the scouting reports say about his defense, the top shortstop in the system. Having said all that, Lee isn’t really that close to being in the Major Leagues. His bat isn’t nearly as developed as Castro’s, which means he won’t skip levels at the rocket pace Castro did. Lee is probably two or three years away at the earliest, which gives him plenty of time to improve.
2010 was a positive year for Lee overall, and his future remains bright. His bat might prevent him from ever moving Starlin Castro from shortstop, but his speed is such a rare weapon for a Cubs’ player that he should at least get a chance some day.