Full Scouting Report: Cubs Prospect Hak-Ju Lee
His plus speed, smooth skills at short and athleticism have already drawn comparisons to Jose Reyes. I took a long look at the Korean-born shortstop in Peoria (Ill.) last week, and what I came away with was a very positive impression. Here's what I saw from the 19-year old:
Lee is a real athlete, and that is where the impressive part of his game begins. He is well proportioned, thin and very wiry. He is built most thinly at his waist and is a little more broad around his shoulders. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, this is probably what he's going to be physically in the long term. There's not a lot of room to thicken up, which is a positive considering his style of play. He has long legs, and long strides and that's where he generates his good spped.
Getting the left-handed hitting Lee to the point where he is a finished product at the plate is going to be the biggest challenge in his development. The tools are in place for him to be a .300 type of hitter, but it's only natural that at just 19 he has some things on which to work. Right now, he's not as patient as you'd like for a guy who figures to hit at the top of the lineup, but he did not show me a tendency to go fishing for breaking pitches out of the zone. He appears to recognize off-speed pitches fairly well. His pitch selection will just need to improve.
Lee shows good hand-eye coordination and usually is going to put the ball in play. He has quiet hands at the plate, holds them somewhat high and relies on them heavily in his approach. He's able to stay back and use those hands very well. Already he has a good feel for taking the ball the other way, but he also has the bat speed to turn around a plus fastball.
The approach needs to be refined. He gets caught on his front foot a little too often and he has a little trouble with pitches down in the zone, but overall the skills are there to be a very good, and above average threat at the plate. He hits a few too many balls in the air right now, not taking advantage of his speed, but that also figures to be something that will come with age and experience.
The home run is not going to be Lee's game. However, he showed me some surprising pop to the gaps. Lee likes the fastball up, and if he gets a mistake pitch he can drive the ball with authority to right-center field. There's not a lot of loft in his swing, but he's going to rack up the doubles and triples. He has the raw power to hit around 10 home runs annually at the big-league level.
Here's where Lee is going to make an impact on a team and where the Reyes comparisons begin. Lee is not Jose Reyes all-around. He doesn't have that type of pop in his bat. He does, however, have comparable speed and causes the same type of mayhem on the basepaths.
Lee has 7 or perhaps even 8 speed on the 2-8 scouting scale and he runs the bases exceptionally well for a player his age. He gets good jumps and showed very good instincts going from first to third.
Lee is the type of defender that already looks like a Gold Glove at shortstop. And it would be only this type of player that could displace a player like Castro at shortstop. He's that special on the defensive side of things. He has a plus arm, which allows him to complete some spectacular plays. What's most impressive is how easy he makes some of these difficult plays look.
He circles the ball in the hole to his right very well, and makes throws consistently off his back foot as if they were routine. His hands are outstanding, and the range to both sides would be among the best in the majors right now. It's high praise and risky to make such a comparison, but Lee plays the position like a stronger armed Omar Vizquel.
There is a long way to go before we have to worry about Lee pushing Castro to a different position. And let's be clear, Lee is not going to be the hitter that Castro is. His special defensive skills make the thought of moving Castro seem more logical than vice versa. Lee is more of a project on the offensive side, but if he pans out the way I expect, he has the makings of an elite top-of-the-order hitter who can steal 50 bases and be a consistent offensive force.
Lee is more than a slap-and-slash hitter though. From what I saw from him in Peoria, he can drive the ball to the gaps and he should only get more consistent as he matures. The 19-year-old is not going to be a big home run threat, but he has real ability at the plate. Combine that with his phenomenal defensive skills and great speed and the Chicago Cubs have another shortstop that they can be very excited about.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.