Minor League Review: Take Nothing for Granted From Hak-Ju Lee

By Robbie Knopf

Get this straight. Prospects are not actualities. No matter how talented they are, there’s always considerable risk and you never know what will happen. Many Rays fans, myself included time, thought that when the Rays acquired Hak-Ju Lee and he played well in 2011, that he was going to be our shortstop of the future, and bring a solid back, steal a ton of bases, and play Gold Glove-esque defense. Maybe that will happen and we hope that it will happen. Just assume nothing.

Thus far in 2012, Hak-Ju Lee has been undeniably pedestrian. In 67 games and 311 plate appearances from Double-A Montgomery, Lee has posted a .243/.312/.311 line with 7 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, and 17 RBI. He is still lightning fast and has swiped 22 bases in 29 tries. But he has hit for no power and he has managed a 55-27 strikeout to walk ratio, decent, but nothing special at all. He has also taken his frustration out into the field, making 15 errors in 66 games after making 18 in 118 games in 2011. Granted, Lee is a 21 year old playing in a league where the average age is over 24. But we’re not seeing flashes of anything other than speed and defense. He’s hitting for no power- although his homers did come in back-to-back games. Even in his “hot streak” so far in June, Lee has just a .279/.353/.377 line with no doubles, no triples, 2 homers, 3 RBI, and just 1 stolen base- although he has posted a much improved 9-7 strikeout to walk ratio. Lee has struggled versus lefties, posting just a .202/.247/.233 line against them compared to .268/.341/.347 versus righties. Lee has shown nothing to make us think that he’s ever gong to be an above-average hitter, even for a shortstop.

We hope this is all an aberration and an off-year. Hopefully Lee will make an adjustment next year and be fine. But maybe Hak-Ju Lee is just a below-average offensive player. The Rays love speed and defense and Lee can provide those things. We know how important shortstop defense is- look how many errors Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have made this season- and Lee has excellent ability defensively. And he’ll bunt, beat out some groundballs, and steal some bases. Maybe that’s all we can expect. No, we can expect more, we can hope for better, but that is all we can be sure about. Lee’s slump thus far this season is a reality check- both for him and for us as fans.