Lee delivers big night for ValleyCats

Astros first-rounder sets career highs with three RBIs, four runs

Korey Lee led the University of California with 57 RBIs as a junior this season. (Tri-City ValleyCats)

By Andrew Battifarano / MiLB.com | July 10, 2019 11:43 PM

Even 20 games into his New York-Penn League tenure, Korey Lee has an "indescribable feeling" that he's able to play professional baseball every day. And while he went through a tough stretch to begin July, he knew that things would turn around like they did Wednesday night.

The Astros' first-round pick matched his career high with three hits and set personal bests with four runs scored and three RBIs to lead Class A Short Season Tri-City to a 14-7 win over State College at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.

Video: Lee's two-run single for Tri-City

"You just have to keep reminding yourself that there's going to be a tomorrow if you have a rough day at the plate," he said. "If you have a good day at the plate, you just have to go into the next day. That's the approach that I've been taking."

Lee broke through at the University of California this year, hitting .337 with a .619 slugging percentage and 15 homers in the Pac-12 Conference. As a backstop, he threw out 40 percent of would-be basestealers in his junior season. With his power graded at 55 and a 60-grade arm behind the dish, the 20-year-old vaulted from MLB.com's No. 119 Draft prospect to the 32nd overall pick. 

Getting to hear his name on Draft day and then a contract with the Astros fulfilled a lifelong dream, which is still sinking in a month later. He's also had to move to upstate New York, which means living on the East Coast for the first time. But when his parents, Darrin and Lisa, ask if he's still having fun, "the answer is always yes," even if he's in a new time zone.

With a career-high 51 NCAA games already under his belt this season, plus the 20 (nine behind the plate) with Tri-City, he's grateful that his body -- particularly his legs and back -- has held up and allowed him to continue playing. Previously, he hadn't played in more than 36 contests in a season with the Golden Bears. He hasn't taken off days for granted, using them to stay in game shape for whenever he's called upon to catch again.

"I've had the opportunity to be very, very healthy and play my entire career at Cal and then come here and perform the way I've wanted to perform," Lee said. "It's something that you can't take for granted because you never know when you're going to have another game. That's also the approach and I'm sticking with it. You just can't have a day come short of what you want to do."

Gameday box score

Signed on June 12 and assigned to the ValleyCats, Lee batted .227 with a .593 OPS in his first 19 games on the circuit. He had five multi-hit efforts heading into Wednesday, including a three-hit game on June 21, but had a .136 average through six contests in July. Lee admitted having a long stride when loading at the plate while in college, something he's had to tweak early on as a pro with pitchers reaching the mid-90s. 

"We're just trying to make it simple -- hitting is hard enough," he said. "You kind of have to make a little bit of an adjustment just because you're seeing it a little different, it's coming on you a little faster, so that's kind of the approach I'm going with right now. Slowly working on it, it's just a matter of time before I get comfortable. Just really have to get the ball rolling on that."

The California native walked in the opening inning and scored when Zach Biermann doubled to center field. He delivered with runners on in the second when he singled the other way to right off starter Scott Politz to plate two more runs for Tri-City. 

Lee pulled a line drive to left in the fourth against Politz and scored again on Biermann's groundout. He fell behind in the count in the sixth but singled to right on a 1-2 pitch from reliever Eric Lex before coming home on C.J. Stubbs' double to center. 

2019 MiLB include

With the bases loaded in the seventh, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound backstop delivered a sacrifice fly to center to bring in his third run of the night. Lee raised his average 34 points to .261.

"I tend to stick with the same approach that I had in college in wherever they pitch to me, go with that pitch," he said. "Obviously, if they're going to hang something, then I can pull it and be early. But using the whole field, that's why there's right fielders, that's why there's left fielders -- there's eight people behind the pitcher. It's a little bit different out here, but if you stick with that approach, you're going to be sitting pretty."

Biermann and Joe Perez each drove in three runs to round out the Tri-City offense.

Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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