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Khalil Lee Brings Well-Rounded Game To Carolina League

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Khalil Lee (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

ZEBULON, N.C. — Khalil Lee entered the season as the fourth-youngest player in the Carolina League. He ended its first half with an all-star appearance and its second-highest on-base percentage.

Lee was drafted by the Royals in the third round in 2016 out of high school in Oakton, Va., and has quickly made a name for himself. He entered the year ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Royals’ system, just behind first baseman Nick Pratto, who was playing in the South Atlantic League’s all-star game in nearby Greensboro, N.C.

He earned that designation by showing future average or better tools across the board, and the Royals rewarded him in 2017 by skipping him over Rookie-level Idaho Falls to low Class A Lexington.

He’s taken steps forward this year with high Class A Wilmington, not least of which involves cutting his strikeout rate by nearly 8 percent, from 32.1 to 24.2. That coincides with an increase in walk rate, from 12.2 percent last season to 16.7 percent, through this year’s first half.

“What I’ve been doing, really, is just taking what the other team’s been giving me,” Lee said. “If they’re going to walk me, I’ve been trying to not chase pitches out of the zone and just take the walk. And when they do throw a ball they can hit, try to hit in play hard and then run fast.”

Another key to moving through the minor leagues involves adjusting to new umpires. Like players, pro umps move up the level with players. As the competition level increases, the strike zone gets more consistent and, usually, smaller.

“Learning the strike zone and learning how the pitchers are pitching me, just getting more comfortable in the box has helped me become a better hitter as well,” Lee said. “The strike zone is changing as the game goes on, but I’m making an adjustment with it.”

Offense is just one facet of Lee’s game. He’s also shows outstanding tools in center field. A scout who saw him recently said he could stand to refine his routes a bit, but his overall instincts, speed and solid, accurate throwing arm could add up to him being a potential shutdown defender in the future.

He’s already made plenty of highlight-reel plays this year, perhaps the finest of which came against Potomac on May 9. That night, he sprinted deep into the left-center field alleyway to rob Nationals sensation Juan Soto of what would have been yet another extra-base hit.

Taking a hit away from a player who’s quickly making noise as one of the best young players in the big leagues is special on its own, but Lee wants more.

“It’s more like, ‘One day I’ll be playing against him,’” Lee said. “That’s what I look forward to.”

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