Lee finding stride, peace of mind in Fall League after tumultuous year

November 1st, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- It’s been said that hitting can be contagious. Hao-Yu Lee, the Tigers' No. 8 prospect, agrees and was thrilled to be invited to the Arizona Fall League to catch that contagion.

It had been a frustrating season for the 20-year-old second baseman, who navigated through a trade, an injury and never felt quite right at the plate. He’s been feeling much more "hitterish" this fall, though, and his bat-to-ball skills were on full display as he went 3-for-5 in the Salt River Rafters' 8-7 loss to the Mesa Solar Sox on Tuesday afternoon.

Lee was far from the only player to swing the bat well at Sloan Park, as the Rafters banged out 15 hits, with all but one player in the lineup picking up a hit and four others joining Lee in the multihit category. Lee, who had a .760 OPS over 75 games during the regular season, never got in sync for an extended period, but he doesn’t think the quad strain that sidelined him was responsible.

“Timing-wise, it’s been an ongoing issue the entire season,” Lee said through interpreter Peter Lin. “It’s not because of the injury. I feel like I’m a tick off throughout the entire season. I don’t know why when I got here, maybe I just saw everybody hitting, and I clicked.”

Lee has picked up a hit in all but two of his 10 Fall League games with an extra-base knock in consecutive games for the first time of the campaign. Tuesday's three-hit performance wasn’t enough to offset Cubs outfielder Kevin Alcántara’s three-hit (and five-RBI) day, but it did raise his overall slash line to .297/.413/.432.

Ever since Lee came to the United States after the Phillies signed him for $570,000 in the summer of 2021, the Taiwan native has shown off an advanced approach, especially for his age, so the fact that he has more walks than strikeouts in the AFL should not be surprising. He has the chance to be an above-average hitter in the future, though missing reps because of injuries hasn’t helped. Lee lost time in 2022 with a broken hand, and this year it was his left quad. That one was particularly ill-timed because it came just eight games after he was sent to the Tigers at the Trade Deadline for Michael Lorenzen. In many ways, this marks the first time he’s shown the Tigers what he’s really capable of, something he’s eager to continue heading into 2024.

“It’s not something I can control, but I had several injuries,” Lee said. “You can’t control this, it is what it is. Right now, I’m going to do what I can control, finish here strong and show the Tigers fans next year, starting from Spring Training.”

Getting traded can be quite a shock for any young player, even without injury issues. Lee admits he initially he had trouble wrapping his head around why the Phillies gave up on him. He’s had some time since the Aug. 1 deal to flip the script around and see it from the Tigers' perspective, not to mention the fact that the guy the Phillies received in the deal contributed on the playoff roster.

“At the beginning, I wasn’t really grasping the idea,” Lee said. “Getting traded was ‘The Phillies didn’t want me.’ That was my thought at the beginning. But I’ve thought about it and it turns out, it’s actually a good thing. The Tigers wanted me and the Phillies had to give somebody up to get a Major Leaguer and that happened to be me.”