The Lexington Legends have one of the more exciting offenses in the South Atlantic League. Their high powered attack leads the circuit in runs (614) and RBI (556), while landing second in doubles (235) and home runs (109).
KHALIL LEE, OF
Lee was selected by the Royals in the third round of last year’s MLB Draft. A two-way star in high school, the Royals chose to go with his bat. With pretty good speed and an obvious strong and accurate arm, they sent Lee to the outfield.
He stands at just 5-foot-10 and is listed at 170 pounds, though he looks a bit bulkier. He swings a quick left-handed bat with an uncanny ability to use all fields. Just 19-years-old, he has a tremendous amount of power for such a small frame, blasting 17 home runs and 23 doubles on the season. All this despite having a ground ball rate of 47.1 percent, 16 percentage points higher than his fly ball rate.
He uses his whole body to generate power, especially that big leg kick. He starts legs close together in the back of the box, back elbow up high, hands starting at head level and dropping just a bit. Lee’s bat cruises through the strike zone.
He certainly has some strikeout issues, striking out 32 percent of the time, a SAL-worst 163 times. He does have a feel for the strike zone, however, walking nearly 12 percent of the time. Wednesday night in Rome, Lee stood looking at three straight pitches in his first at bat, while striking out on four pitches (three of which were fouls) in his second.
Lee also has speed, but he needs to learn to use it better. This is evidenced in the stolen base department as well as defensively. On the base paths he’s stolen 19 bases in 37 chances. In the outfield however, he covers a lot of ground though he may be settling in more as a right fielder now than his original centerfield position.
Speaking of outfield play, he may have the best arm in the SAL not named Cristian Pache. His 13 assists are just three behind Pache’s lead, eight coming in his new home in right field.
EMMANUEL RIVERA, 3B
Rivera is an intimidating presence at the plate. The 2015 19th-rounder out of Puerto Rico stands at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. He has a lot of pre-pitch movement in his swing and just looks like he is going to crush the ball on every swing. He has learned how to make contact consistently, leading the SAL with 134 hits.
The 21-year-old right-hander struggled at the plate in his first two seasons, but that has all changed in his first go at full-season ball. He is slashing .307/.363/.472 with 26 doubles and 12 home runs. The majority of his power is pull, but he can go the other way launching four opposite field home runs this season. His lone single Wednesday was a ground ball to second base.
He has long been plagued by high ground ball rates (68 percent in 2015, 55 percent in 2016, 52 percent in 2017). As he continues to learn how to use his raw power, perhaps by not aggressively striking the ball and lofting it a bit more, Rivera has true 20 home run potential.
Rivera could draw a few more walks (just 30 in 477 plate appearances), but he showed he can work a count Wednesday night. He grounded out in five-pitches in his first at bat, making contact on both strikes. He only strikes out 17 percent of the time, an improved number from his first two seasons.
He showed his stuff in the field Wednesday night as well. He made a spectacular play, stretching to his left and then throwing a strike to first base all the way across the diamond. Rivera showed good instincts and mobility as well as a rifle of an arm. If he can continue to show he can hit for average, he could become an all-around weapon.
GABRIEL CANCEL, 2B
The first two of these Royals prospects have similar offensive numbers, and Cancel continues the trend. He has 30 double potential with 15 to 20 home run pop, but needs to improve his plate discipline and learn how to use his speed.
(this video is courtesy of Minor League Baseball)
The 20-year-old was drafted in the same 2015 draft as Rivera, also out of Puerto Rico. The seventh-rounder entered pro ball as a shortstop, but quickly moved to second and called it his home. He plays decent enough, but lacks the range and arm necessary of a shortstop.
If Cancel makes it far, it will be with his bat.
Cancel went 0-for-4 Wednesday night in Rome, but he made contact in every at bat. He lined out, grounded out, reached on an error and popped out. This seems to be exactly the kind of hitter Cancel is, as his batted ball profile is pretty balanced (20 percent line drives, 42 percent ground balls, and 38 percent fly balls).
The right-hander is almost all pull in the power department. He is also an interesting case in his splits. Almost all of his power comes against righties (11 home runs) yet he hits lefties tremendously better (.353 batting average).
Like Lee and Rivera, Cancel can run, but has a slow first step and needs to utilize his speed better. He is 8-for-15 on the season, but as the catching improves as he climbs the ladder, he may cut down on the attempts. Also worrisome is his strike zone awareness. He has struck out 90 times while walking just 19 in 397 plate appearance.
Still, 27 doubles and 14 home runs behind a 124 wRC+ is an impressive jump in full-season ball for a player who struggled at the rookie level. He’s certainly worth keeping tabs on as he climbs the ladder.