The New York Mets have been zestful and exuberant participants in free agency, scouring the free agent market for players who could help them win in 2021 while engaging numerous teams in trade talks. The team has managed this offseason to retool their roster through free agency and trades, and rumors remain that the team is not done yet.
The most recent trade the Mets made involved the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals. In the trade, the Mets gave up pitching prospect Josh Winckowski (who they acquired in the Steven Matz trade with the Toronto Blue Jays) to the Royals for prized outfield prospect Khalil Lee.
This was an argute trade for the Mets, characterized by acuteness and sagacity on the team’s part. There was a dearth of minor league outfield depth in the Mets farm system, and the exiguous options in the minors left the team in a vulnerable position. The trade for Lee solves that predicament.
Suddenly, the Mets, a team that only had two outfielders in their top-15 prospects and neither of them possessing any experience outside of Rookie Ball, now have a top-10 outfield prospect who will have an opportunity to make an impact for the team either in 2021 or in the near future.
Lee is a left-handed outfielder who was drafted in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Royals straight out of high school. He made an instant impact in Rookie Ball, producing 29 RBI and a batting line of .269/.396/.484 over 222 plate appearances. Shortly thereafter, he ascended through the Royals minor league system, encountering a small slump in 2018, compiling a .245/.330/.353 batting line.
Khalil Lee has shown great promise early in his career and will get a chance to take the next big step in his career with the Mets.
In his last full big league season in 2019, Lee showed why he deserves a shot to make the Mets big league roster. Over his 546 plate appearances, Lee clobbered eight home runs, 21 RBI, 53 stolen bases, and a 112 wRC+ over a .264/.363/.372 batting line. He also showcased above-average speed and a strong arm, proving that he could play at any of the three outfield positions. However, a drawback to Lee’s performance is his 28.2% strikeout rate, which is well above the league average in 2020 (23.1%).
This statistic is a microcosm of Lee’s weaknesses as a hitter. His biggest issue so far in his career is that he strikes out a lot. Although this is a common problem for younger players, Lee has not shown improvement in this area yet despite being a professional ballplayer for five seasons. In four of the five seasons, Lee has a strikeout rate 24% or above, suggesting a lack of plate discipline. If he could improve that aspect to his game and learn how to be selectively aggressive, Lee could play his way onto the Mets in 2021.
Right now, the Mets outfield appears set, with Brandon Nimmo, Dominic Smith, and Michael Conforto as the three starting outfielders. Albert Almora Jr., who the Mets signed last week, figures to be the club’s fourth outfielder. Jose Martinez and Guillermo Heredia are also in the mix to serve on the Mets bench and as the team’s fifth outfielder.
With the Mets having numerous veteran outfielders on the roster, Lee’s opportunity for playing time in 2021 is limited, even if he performs well during Spring Training and in the minors. His best chance at taking the major league field would be in September when rosters expand. More than likely, Lee will get significant playing time during Spring Training and then sent back down to the minors. Expectations are that he will begin the season with the Syracuse Mets in Triple-A as one of the team’s starting outfielders.
The offseason period is drawing to a close, and that means Mets players will be flocking to Port St. Lucie in a few days, welcoming the salubrious Florida weather and the unofficial start of the 2021 Spring Training season. The Mets released their official Spring Training roster on Saturday, and Lee is on the list, which means he will have a chance to compete and showcase his skills for his new team.
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However, for him to find his way on the Mets roster in 2021, he will need to show that he can cut down on his strikeouts while continuing to provide the power the team expects him to produce.