'I love playing baseball': Lee brings strong mentality, potential to Phillies camp

March 8th, 2022
Philadelphia Phillies/Miles Kennedy

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If Lee Hao-Yu is not on the field, he is probably hitting in the cage. If he is not hitting in the cage, he is probably thinking about baseball.

Or he is watching it.

“I watch film,” Lee said through an interpreter this week at Carpenter Complex. “Sometimes it’s film of myself. Sometimes it’s film of a big leaguer. I love Giancarlo Stanton. But when I’m bored, I’ll watch baseball.”

Lee, 19, is an emerging prospect in the Phillies’ system. They signed the second baseman last summer out of Taiwan because he can hit. For years, the Phillies watched him barrel baseballs against some of the best pitchers in the world in international competitions.

He has continued to hit the ball hard in the United States. It is a small sample size, but he batted .364 with one home run, five RBIs and a 1.213 OPS in nine games last season with the Rookie-level FCL Phillies. Mention his name to anybody at Carpenter Complex these days, and they immediately praise his hitting.

“The instincts stand out,” Phillies player development director Preston Mattingly said. “He’s advanced for his age. I think getting exposed to some of that international play, I think it helped him. He just puts himself in a really good position to hit. He’s going to be on everything, and he has a really good awareness of the strike zone. He’s as strong as a bull, too. He’s humongous. He’s going to have power.”

Lee is not big in the same way as his favorite player Stanton. The Yankees slugger is 6-foot-6, 245 lbs. Lee is 5-foot-10, 209 lbs.

But Lee is solid. He is tough. He plays with an edge.

“He makes an out, he’s not happy,” Phillies international scouting director Sal Agostinelli said. “He’s not used to striking out much, you know?”

Philadelphia Phillies/Miles Kennedy

Phillies scout Youngster Wang first caught a glimpse of Lee in Taiwan. Former Phillies assistant general manager Bryan Minniti saw him and liked him, too. Then Agostinelli got his glimpse at the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in 2019. Lee hit .300 (6-for-20) with two doubles, four RBIs and an .844 OPS in the series as Taiwan beat Team USA for the gold medal.

“He was a year or two younger than most of the guys,” Agostinelli said. “He raked against all the best players in the world. He was hitting bullets all over the place.”

Wang and the Phillies stayed on Lee, until he signed last summer for more than $500,000. The Phillies have never signed an Asian-born player who made the big leagues. Lee could be the first, although there is a long way to go. He knows it.

“Obviously I still have things to fix, more or less with my approach,” Lee said. “When I got here, I thought everybody was very impressive. I just have the mentality to compete and be better. I have that competitive mentality. I like to show it. That’s how I like to play the game. The short-term goal is to start over there in [Low-A] Clearwater with the Threshers. Then possibly go to High A [Jersey Shore]. If not, more realistically, I want to play the entire season over there [with the Threshers].”

Lee is working for that opportunity. He is building a reputation as a baseball rat. He might spend more time hitting in the cages than anybody.

“Yeah, I love playing baseball,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where, if I’m playing baseball, I’m very happy to do it. When I’m right here, it’s already super fun. But if I can communicate well enough with my teammates and coaches, I’ll be like 100 percent more involved. I’ll enjoy the game more.”

Flying halfway across the world to play baseball is daunting. But Lee said he is picking up words and phrases in English here and there, with the help of his interpreter Peter Lin. Lee has started to understand what his coaches are telling him. He is starting to make small talk -- “really, really small talk” -- with his teammates.

Asked if he watches any English-speaking TV shows or movies to help him learn English, he said he watches “Peaky Blinders,” which is an interesting choice considering even native English speakers have difficulty understanding the thick Brummie accents on the show.

So it’s just baseball and “Peaky Blinders” then?

“And maybe TikTok,” Lee said, smiling.