Lee calls his shot, logs MLB firsts in front of family

Astros No. 2 prospect and Cal product collects 1st knock, RBI in 3-hit game

July 11th, 2022

OAKLAND -- Korey Lee had a feeling that he would get his first big league hit in the Bay Area. 

After all, he was comfortable in this region of California. His alma mater, U.C. Berkeley, lies a little over 10 miles down the road from the Coliseum. So it wasn't a surprise to him when he connected on a grounder in the fifth inning, bringing in a much-needed insurance run for the Astros. 

"I said it was going to get done here, and I did it," Lee said. "We got that out of the way, and now we just get to play." 

Lee didn't stop there. The Astros' No. 2 Prospect, per MLB Pipeline, tallied two more knocks to go 3-for-4 with three RBIs in his second Major League start. Lee's family and friends had a front-row seat behind the visiting dugout as the Astros cruised to a 6-1 win over the A's, taking the three-game series in dominant fashion.

"We were playing the game," Lee said. "At the end of the day, what we're supposed to do is score and get runs in and hit the ball. It was a really, really good team win today. [Jake] Odorizzi pitched his [butt] off. It was impressive and special to be out there on the field today."

Lee has hit a few bumps on the road in his path to the Majors after going 32nd overall to the Astros in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft. As was the case for many prospects in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee lost a year of professional development during the 2020 season.

With no Minor League season, Lee took matters into his own hands. His brother, Kellen Lee, who is the mental skills coach for the Giants, said Korey grinded in 2020, acquiring a pitching machine to work on his defense behind the plate and building a batting cage in the family's backyard. Kellen said his brother dedicated as much time as possible to maintaining his in-season form. 

"I can't give him enough kudos and enough praise for how he spent that year without a Minor League season," Kellen said. "Now, his labor is coming to fruition, which is really cool.  

"That was a really challenging time for Minor League players, and I think he really made the best of it by just equipping himself with what he needed to prepare himself for the 2021 season. And now we're here in 2022, and he's in the Major Leagues, and it's a pretty exciting time for him."

Lee's efforts paid off, as he advanced rapidly through Houston's system in 2021, beginning the season at High-A Asheville and closing out the year with Triple-A Sugar Land. It was there that Lee began to hone his 70-grade throwing arm, per scouting reports, into a solid defensive tool.

Lee did not become a full-time catcher until 2019, so his defense is still a work in progress. That showed in the fifth inning on Sunday, when Oakland's Skye Bolt drew a two-out walk and then made a break for second base. Lee threw across the diamond, but his throw sailed into the outfield, advancing Bolt to third base.

In his first four games in the Majors, Lee has allowed two stolen bases and has not caught any runners stealing. But it goes without saying that that's an incredibly small sample size. In his Minor League career, Lee has thrown out 35 percent of stolen-base attempts. 

Scouts were not initially enthusiastic about Lee on defense, giving him a 50 grade in that category, but Astros manager Dusty Baker likes what he sees at the big league level.

"He was a little raw [in college], but he's been working on [his] skills," Baker said. "He has a Major League arm -- better than a Major League arm, actually -- and he caught a good game."

That doesn't just happen overnight. Lee has put in the work to become reliable behind the plate, especially during the lost Minor League season.

"When he bought that pitching machine, he would have it set up to throw dirt balls so he could practice the blocking form and really focused the work on the areas for improvement," Kellen said. "And it's pretty incredible to see him now."

Lee's time with the big league club may be short, as he was originally called up to replace veteran catcher Jason Castro when he was placed on the injured list with left knee discomfort. Even if his days are numbered, Lee is soaking up the whole Major League experience. And just as he did in 2020, he's doing whatever it takes to grow.

"I've got two really, really good guys in front of me," Lee said. "I've got [Martín Maldonado] and I've got Jason to really teach me and show me what they've learned in the past 10 years. And me being 23, it's something special. I'm taking advantage of it every single day."