Prospect Retrospective: Derrek Lee
Derrek Lee was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the first round of the 1993 draft, 14th overall, out of El Camino high school in Sacramento, California. He started his career in the rookie-level Arizona League, hitting .327 with a .500 SLG in 15 games. The Padres aggressively promoted him to the California League, where he hit .274 in 20 games, as a 17 year old. Based on his early pro performance and draft position, he would rate as a Grade B+/A- prospect in retrospect.
At age 18 in 1994, Lee hit .267 in the California League. Although he knocked just 8 homers in 126 games, it was still impressive work, holding his own against players 3-4 years older. Eddie Epstein gave him just a Grade C in the '95 scouting notebook, but by my criteria I would have given him something more like a Grade B considering hisyouth.
Lee returned to Rancho Cucamonga in '95, putting up a nice burst of power with 23 homers to go with a .301 batting average. He struck out 130 times and needed work with his plate discipline, but I gave him a B+ in my first book, impressed with his youth.
Moving up to Double-A for '96, Lee hit .280 with 34 homers for Memphis in the Southern League. He increased his walk rate, drawing 65 free passes, but struck out an incredible 170 times in 134 games. I gave him another Grade B+, having some concerns about his contact ability, but impressed with the power and the fact that he was just 20 in Double-A.
Promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas for '97, Lee hit .324 with 13 homers. He cut his strikeout rate while maintaining his walks, but his production was actually a bit less than you might expect given the league/park context. He earned another Grade B+ from me. He appeared in 22 games for the Padres late that season, then was shipped to the rebuilding Marlins in the Kevin Brown trade.
Lee spent '98 with Florida, hitting just .233 although with 17 homers. He struggled quite a bit in '99, splitting the season between Triple-A and the Majors, and a lot of people were getting frustrated with his streakiness. But he was still quite young, just 24. He broke out with 28 homers for the Marlins in '00, and has been a consistent source of power in the Florida and Chicago lineups ever since.
Lee's performance in the Majors is pretty much exactly what his minor league numbers imply he could do. He strikes out a lot, but he'll also take walks, and his batting average has consistently been in the .270-.280 range. As a prospect, he excited traditionalist scouts with his raw bat speed and his youth. Statheads liked him because of decent performance against difficult competition at a young age. He runs better than many power hitters, so I think he has a better chance for durability than some other young players with "old player" skills. I don't think he'll turn into Alvin Davis or Jason Thompson.
Comparable players to Derrek Lee through age 28 (based on Sim Score and PECOTA)