This year, the Rays were hoping Hak-Ju Lee could come back and reestablish himself as one of the premier shortstop prospects in baseball after he missed nearly all of 2013 with a knee injury. Instead, Lee had a disappointing year, hitting just .203/.287/.276 in 96 games for Triple-A Durham. If Lee wants to avoid getting lost in the fold, he needs a big rebound in 2014, and in order to do so he needs to fix a significant flaw in his swing.
Lee is known as a slap hitter, and his hitting style can be roughly equated to the likes of Ichiro Suzuki. There is nothing wrong with slap hitting if you can do it right, but unfortunately, that is not the case with Lee right now. Whether you are a slap hitter or not, the goal in any swing is begin pivoting your back leg and hips before your upper body makes any motion. Lee, however, lets his upper body take too much control of his swing, and his back leg and hip do not provide as much leverage as they should. This causes a lack of power in his swing, and it can also affect his ability to turn on inside pitches.
That flaw is significant enough, but Lee has another even bigger issue that affects him. Lee’s front shoulder flies off the ball well too early, and this results in a lack of ability to keep his bat through the zone. In a swing, a hitter wants to keep his front shoulder down and in on the ball as long as possible. This ensures that his body does not pull his bat out of the zone too early, and it results in more power and a better margin for error in timing of a swing. Right now, Lee is basically having to time the ball perfectly if he wants to hit it with any kind of authority. If he gets fooled, chances are he is hitting the ball off the end of his bat, resulting in weak contact.
The reason that Ichiro has been such a good hitter over the course of his career is because even though his front side flies out a little bit, he keeps his body controlled and his hands back. Lee does not do either of these things, and the flying out of his front side is much more pronounced than Ichiro’s.
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If Lee wants to fix his hitting problems, he has to change these two flaws. He is certainly not a lost cause, but for someone who is 23 years old at Triple-A, it is not good that issues this significant are still around. In order to gain some power and help himself on inside pitch, Lee is going to need to learn the proper sequencing of his swing to ensure that his backside fires before his upper body. To make better contact and ensure he can still make contact if he is fooled, Lee has to keep his front shoulder from flying out too early in his swing.
The fact of the matter is that Lee’s swing has not gotten any better as he has moved up the ladder, and he still has two major flaws. If anything, these flaws have been much more pronounced this year than ever before. Hak-Ju Lee can still be an above-average shortstop, but to get there, he needs to make adjustments to his swing.