Khalil Lee has the best all-around tools in the Royals system. He has quickness and loft in his left-handed swing, giving him surprising raw power for someone who stands 5-foot-10, and solid speed that plays on the bases and in center field. He also possesses a strong, accurate arm that
Khalil Lee has the best all-around tools in the Royals system. He has quickness and loft in his left-handed swing, giving him surprising raw power for someone who stands 5-foot-10, and solid speed that plays on the bases and in center field. He also possesses a strong, accurate arm that has registered 29 assists in 253 pro games.
Refining his plate discipline will be the key to realizing his potential. He knows it and the Royals know it, and that's one of the main reasons he's playing for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League.
Arizona Fall League overviews for all 30 teams
A second-round pick out of a Virginia high school in 2016, Lee ranked second in the Class A South Atlantic League with 17 homers and third with 65 walks in his first full pro season. But he also placed first with 171 strikeouts, whiffing in 32 percent of his plate appearances.
The Royals' No. 2 prospect made encouraging progress this year, batting a combined .263/.382/.390 with six homers, 16 steals and 59 walks in 100 games between Class A Advanced and Double-A. He improved his strikeout rate to 25 percent, shaving it to 24 percent after he was promoted in late June. He said he focused on working counts and toning down his two-strike plan, which were essential when he faced more experienced pitchers as just one of four players age 20 or younger to get regular at-bats in the Texas League.
"In Double-A, you see a lot of the pitchers are basically big league-ready," Lee said. "They can throw all their pitches for strikes, they can put it where they want it, thrown any pitch in any count, so it was just good to see that and experience that.
"Just being able to jump on that first good pitch I see was the biggest thing for me. I had to really just focus on hitting that first good one and putting it in play. When I didn't get that first one, I just had to battle and just fight to put the ball in play."
Lee missed the final month of the season after his lower back started to bother him and the Royals shut him down as a precaution. Kansas City vice president and assistant GM for player personnel J.J. Picollo said Lee made impressive strides with his approach before he got hurt.
"He was doing a better job of getting a pitch to hit and doing something with it," Picollo said. "Khalil has a good cockiness about him. He knows he's talented to get away with stuff and he needs challenges, so the AFL should be good for him."
Lee is well equipped to make it as a position player, and he also has pitching as a possible fallback. Several teams were intrigued by the upside he showed as a left-handed pitcher in high school, when he showed a low-90s fastball and a promising slider. He said he loves playing every day but would relish the opportunity to take the mound in pro ball.
"There are some times during the season where I try to get our pitching coach to throw me out there, but they won't let me do it," Lee said. "I do miss pitching.
"Hopefully, I don't have to go pitch. If I have to go pitch, that means something went wrong with the bat. But I do miss it and it was a lot of fun. I think I can get out there and spin a couple if I need to, for sure."
Royals hitters in the Fall League
Meibrys Viloria, C -- Viloria spent the Minor League season at the Class A Advanced level, where he batted .260/.342/.360 with six homers, then earned a surprise September callup and went 7-for-27 in the big leagues. Signed out of Colombia in 2013, he makes line-drive contact and gets the job done behind the plate.
Nick Heath, OF -- The Royals love to draft speedsters and grabbed Heath's plus-plus wheels in the 16th round two years ago. The Northwestern State product hit .274/.376/.358 with 39 steals in 90 games between Class A Advanced and Double-A this season.
Royals pitchers in the Fall League
Scott Blewett, RHP -- Signed for an above-slot $1.8 million as a second-rounder from a New York high school in 2014, Blewett posted a 4.79 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 148 1/3 Double-A innings this summer. He operates in the low 90s with sink on his fastball, and he also throws his curveball and changeup for strikes.
Grant Gavin, RHP -- A 29th-rounder in 2016 out of Central Missouri, Gavin can reach 95 mph with his fastball and flashes a plus curveball with some power. He recorded a 3.19 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 53 2/3 relief innings between high Class A and Double-A.
Arnaldo Hernandez, RHP -- Hernandez has some of the best pure stuff among Kansas City's starter prospects, with a fastball that can hit 96 mph, one of the best changeups in the system and a curveball that has its moments. Signed out of Venezuela in 2012, He progressed from high Class A to Triple-A this year, logging a combined 3.96 ERA with a 105/44 K/BB ratio in 138 2/3 innings.
Walker Sheller, RHP -- Drafted in the ninth round from Stetson in 2016, Sheller is a sinker/slider reliever who can run his fastball as high as 95 mph. He had a 3.30 ERA with a 33/16 K/BB ratio in 57 13/ relief innings, mostly in high Class A.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.