One of the side effects of the rash of injuries that the New York Mets experienced earlier this season was that it forced some of their top players from AAA Syracuse to contribute at the major league level. One of those guys was outfielder Khalil Lee, who looked overmatched against big-league pitching and was one of the first players sent back down when the Mets got people back. The move allowed Lee to play every day at AAA Syracuse and he has done well there, making him the focus of this week’s edition of Minor League Mondays.
The Mets acquired Lee in a three-way deal this offseason from the Kansas City Royals, adding some much-needed upper-level depth in the outfield to their farm system. Lee is known for his incredible speed, as he stole 53 bases for the Royals’ AA affiliate in Northwest Arkansas in 2019, and his defensive ability but his hit tool still needed refinement. That was evident in Lee’s cup of coffee at the big league level, where he struggled to hit breaking balls while collecting just two hits in 18 at-bats while striking out 13 times.
Lee was sent back to Syracuse on May 31 and he has played well down there, batting .271 with five home runs and 19 RBI’s in 60 games. Strikeouts are still an issue for Lee, who has whiffed in 40 percent of his AAA at-bats, but he has managed to post a .447 on-base percentage by increasing his walk rate from 12.1 percent in 2019 to 20.6 percent in 2021. Lee has also demonstrated some gap power by launching 13 doubles, contributing to a solid .894 OPS for Syracuse this season.
The Mets will be watching Lee down the stretch to see how he performs in an evaluation of whether he can be a bench contributor in 2022. There is no reason to bring Lee up to the big club right now since it will be better for his development to continue getting everyday at-bats for Syracuse and work on improving his contact skills. Michael Conforto’s impending free agency has drawn all the attention from Mets’ fans but both Kevin Pillar and Albert Almora are also eligible for free agency, meaning the Mets should need at least three outfielders in the offseason. Lee shouldn’t be guaranteed a job at this point but he will likely be given the opportunity to compete for a backup role on the major league roster in Port St. Lucie next spring.