Hak-Ju Lee Comes As Advertised

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The Rays invited shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, their prized prospect from South Korea, to major league spring training for the benefit of mutual introductions.

They certainly liked what they saw.

After watching Lee play in some of the early exhibitions, manager Joe Maddon was suitably impressed.

"He fields a ground ball just like our people said, real clean," Maddon said. "That's so pretty. He's very simple. There's no chrome on it, there's no flash about it. He just picks up ground balls and throws them accurately to first base, and to me that's the best kind of infielder. He's done that really well so far. The biggest thing to see is his defense. He runs well, he's a great kid, he's very bright. He's as advertised to this point."

Lee, 21, came to the Rays as one of the top pieces in the January 2011 Matt Garza trade with the Cubs.

He showed the Rays plenty last season with  high Class A Charlotte, winning the Stone Crabs' team MVP and Florida State League all-star honors, while batting .318/.389/.443 with 17 doubles, 11 triples and 28 steals in 97 games.

And that was after missing the start of the season due to a case of chicken pox that resulted in him being quarantined in a Port Charlotte motel.

Lee is healthy this spring, and more comfortable, having improved his English primarily by watching American movies. He said he was "really excited" to be in his first big league camp and his basic approach was simple. "I'm just ready, always ready," he said. "Work hard, play hard, that's it."

He is also confident in his chances to reach the big leagues. Realistically, Lee said he knows he needs more games, more at-bats, more innings in the minors.
But when asked about the majors, he said:  "I'm ready now."


• Shortstop prospect Tim Beckham got some work at second base early in spring training, but manager Joe Maddon said the theory was to increase his versatility not change his position. "He's still a shortstop," Maddon said.

• Righthander Alex Colome, nephew of former Rays reliever Jesus Colome, made a strong impression early in camp, showing off a 98 mph fastball. Colome split last season between Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery.