At first glance, Khalil Lee doesn't appear to be the most imposing player on the field.
However, watch the Royals No. 12 prospect turn on a fastball with his lightning-quick bat speed or make a throw on the fly from the outfield to home plate and it becomes apparent that his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame generates impressive explosiveness -- and that's generated some solid numbers.
Through July 19, he was tied for third in the Class A South Atlantic League with 13 home runs and tied for fourth with 53 runs scored. His 11 assists were tied for second among outfielders, one behind league leader Cristian Pache of Asheville.
"Bat speed and arm strength are something I've always had," said Lee, who turned 19 on June 26. "But you also have to be aware of keeping your body in shape. I do a lot of work to build strength. It's something I've been trying to maintain and use to my advantage, because I know those are two of the best [tools] that I have."
Hailing from Oakton, Virginia, Lee committed to play at nearby Liberty University, where he was projected to serve as center fielder and closer. In fact, some scouts believed the lefty's low-90s fastball and overall feel for pitching would be his ticket to the professional ranks.
The Royals organization, however, liked what the high school prospect generated at the plate with his raw power and selected him out of the Flint Hill School with a third-round pick in the 2016 Draft.
Lee's first taste of pro ball proved the Royals correct when he finished among the leaders in the Rookie-level Arizona League with a .396 on-base percentage, .484 slugging percentage and six home runs. He's continued to produce in the SAL with a slash line of .246/.356/.450, including 16 doubles, four triples and 45 RBIs in 82 outings at Lexington.
"Sometimes I really want to get out there and pitch, but I'm happy with my decision to be an outfielder," Lee said. "I don't really look back on my days as a pitcher that much. Right now my focus is on learning a lot while having a pretty good season. There's always room for improvement, but I believe I'm getting a lot of good exposure to great pitching and being able to figure out my routine over the course of a full season."
Video: Lexington's Lee homers to right-center
Lee spent the first six weeks of this season playing mostly right field before toiling in center for the last two months. He's most comfortable in the middle after manning the position throughout his amateur career, yet realizes he could prove most valuable at higher levels by handling any of the three outfield spots due to his plus arm strength and quick first step.
His primary goal on offense centers on making more consistent contact. Even though he leads the SAL with 123 strikeouts, he also has drawn the most walks on the circuit with 49 due to his strong feel for the strike zone. He believes that with experience, his strikeout ratio will decrease, which should make him an even more productive hitter.
"I'm just trying to make hard contact and let the rest play out," Lee said. "I think consistency is the number one thing I need to work on because that is what will get you to the next level. You hit some streaks of not playing as well as you want to, but you have to play through them and stay positive. If you do that, it's all going to work out."
Pitching prowess: The Lakewood pitching staff has emerged as one of the most formidable in the Minors. The BlueClaws rank second in the SAL with a 3.16 ERA and feature three of the circuit's top four ERA leaders -- Ranger Suarez (1st, 1.59), JoJo Romero (2nd, 2.11) and Nick Fanti (4th, 2.52). Lakewood also paces the SAL with 16 shutouts (five more than second-best Columbia) and 866 strikeouts.
Abreu en fuego: Asheville right fielder Willie Abreu has been hotter than the weather this July. The University of Miami product batted .379/.429/.621 in his first 14 games of the month with five doubles, three home runs and 12 RBIs. Abreu has climbed the league leader boards in several offensive categories, ranking second in RBIs (55) and total bases (153). He is also tied for second with 38 extra-base hits and 26 stolen bases and tied for third with 25 doubles.
Soaring Shorebird: Delmarva's Alex Wells has emerged as one of the hottest pitchers in the Minors. After going 3-2 with a 4.46 ERA in six June starts, the left-hander did not allow a run in his first three outings in July, surrendering nine hits while striking out 14 batters without issuing a walk in 19 innings. His recent efforts improved his season record to 8-4 with a 2.56 ERA in 18 starts.