The introduction to the list is here, feel free to give that a read.
50. Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Vitals: DOB: 11/4/90, 6’2″ 170lbs. Signed by the Chicago Cubs as an international free agent in May, 2008 for a $725,000 bonus. Currently playing with AA Montgomery in the Southern League playoffs, and assigned to the Arizona Fall League this year.
Lee was part of the Matt Garza trade with the Cubs almost two full years ago and now he appears to be the best piece of that deal for Tampa Bay. It might feel like he’s taken a while, since Lee has, with the exception of a late-season promotion in 2011, played a level per year for the last four years.
Defensively, Lee has good instincts and a plus arm. On top of that, his speed gets him to balls fast. His 2011 manager in Charlotte told Baseball America that Lee rarely has to make backhanded plays at shortstop, due to his gift for getting in front of every ball. That might not win Lee many Derek Jeter Gold Glove Awards For Sexy-Looking Plays Jumping Into Left Field And Throwing Across His Body. But it will make Lee a better defensive player than Jeter a la Alexei Ramirez, with the ability to make plays look routine that Jeter makes look difficult but sexy. Lee will stick at shortstop at the major league level, and is probably the best defensive shortstop in the Rays organization today, including their MLB roster.
Lee is the future shortstop on a playoff-caliber team. He’s Tampa Bay’s long-term answer at the position and it’s mostly a matter now of when that time begins. I think that’s a large part of why they’ve sent both Lee and Tim Beckham to the AFL this year.: to get a longer look at what they have in both of them, while giving Beckham what must at this point be his final wake-up call and priming Lee for MLB action at some point in 2013. The only thing keeping Lee back from a mid-season 2013 debut would be, to my eyes, the Rays’ organizational philosophy to go slow with players.
At the plate, Lee will draw some comparisons to Ichiro Suzuki, because he has a junior version of Suzuki’s swing, which brings him out of the box and down the line as an extension of his left-handed swing. Lee does not have tremendous bat speed, but when I saw him he controlled the bat well and displayed above-average hand-eye coordination. Lee is selective at the plate and his bat control allows him to cover the plate well. Lee projects as a player whose speed, combined with a high contact rate, could turn him into a high-average, high-on-base hitter, although one with very very little power. Maybe 15-20 doubles and a handful of triples. Don’t expect home runs–in close to 2000 minor league plate appearances, Lee has only eight.
Lee is only 21, and at 21 has four full seasons of professional baseball under his belt. He has certainly struggled offensively at times, but he has typically handled struggles well and improved off of them. He walks at a good rate, and has a line-drive swing that should couple with his excellent speed to make him a BABIP-beater. Only four shortstops in AA were younger than Lee this year: Jurickson Profar, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Leury Garcia. Lee out-hit Schoop and had a wOBA five points less than Garcia, both of whom he’s superior to on defense. The other two are clearly superior to Lee at the plate, but are a click or more behind him on defense.
I know a lot of people don’t have Lee anywhere near their top 50. I’m comfortable bringing him throug the back door of my list and setting him at fifty, because I believe he’s a .300-hitting shortstop who will play defense at a well-above-average rate in MLB. I see Lee’s floor at a .250-hitting player with excellent speed and a plus defender, and a ceiling of plus defender with .275-.300 batting average, above-average on-base skills, and a couple All-Star games.
49. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodger
Vitals: DOB 12/7/1990, 6’3″, 215lbs. Signed by the Dodgers for 7 years/$42 million as an international free agent. Finished 2012 at high-A Rancho Cucamonga.
Yasiel Puig got seven years and 42 million dollars out of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which, in June, looked like the Dodgers were enjoying their first dose of new-owner, big-money-club lavish- and wastefulness. Puig hadn’t played in a year. Teams’ scouts had not seen Puig (legally) in a year. He was reportedly, when available to scouts at last, out of shape.
Puig could have been a big waste of money by the Dodgers. He could be, at 49, the biggest bust on my list in a few years.
But then there’s that swing.
In BP and in game situations, Puig’s swing stays quiet and smooth, with an easy weight transfer and good posture. He doesn’t sell out the swing to load up for power.
Puig has present plus raw power at the plate and projects to build a little more as he matures physically. Coupled with plus speed and an above-average defensive game in right field, Puig’s ceiling is likely a defensive asset in right field with 30 home run power and 15-20 stolen bases. Yoenis Cespedes is an easy comp, both being athletic, thick-bodied Cubans (probably a too-easy comp, much like comparing Lee to Suzuki), but Puig does have the potential to be a Cespedes-like player in 2014. I’ll be lazy and make that comp. Puig’s athleticism and his potential to be a middle-order masher, and his ability at 21 to enter pro ball after a year off and hold his own (in an admittedly small sample) are all more than enough for me to start to tune out some of the noise that surrounded him when he was signed.
48. Alen Hanson, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
Vitals: DOB 10/22/1992, 5’11″ 192lbs. Signed by Pirates as an international free agent for a $150,000 bonus. Finished 2012 at low-A West Virginia.
Hanson is one of the leading candidates for Pop-Up Prospect of The Year. He didn’t find his way to anyone’s best-of lists entering the season. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus listed him as the Pirates 18th-best prospect last December, giving the one-sentence summary: “This young infielder has speed and an idea at the plate.” Hanson was absent from Keith Law’s list of Top 10 Pirates prospects this pre-season, and Baseball America ranked him 27th on their Pirates Top 30, giving Hanson a nod as the organization’s fastest baserunner. When writers revised their lists for the mid-season, Hanson missed Goldstein’s Top 50, but in the comments section of his piece, asked about Hanson, Goldstein commented that the shortstop was “very close.” Law ranked Hanson 48th on his midseason Top 50. Hanson came in at #40 on BA’s midseason list.
Hanson played all of 2012 at low-A West Virginia, all of it short of his 20th birthday. He certainly did have “an idea at the plate,” posting a K/BB ratio under 2/1, excellent for a teenager playing his first full season of professional baseball. Hanson posted a triple-slash line of .307/.379/.526, with a good bit of pop in his bat. Hanson finished the year ranking 2nd in the Sally League in hits, first in triples, tied for 8th in home runs, and 7th in steals, displaying a very nice mix of hit/speed/power.
A switch-hitter, Hanson has no drop going from one side of the plate to the other. As a lefty, his career minor league slash-line is .286/.373/.470, and as a righty it goes up just a bit to .297/.369/.507. He displays good balance and bat speed from both sides of the plate, with quick hands and a smooth line-drive stroke.
(At the 2:45 mark in the below video, see Hanson go first-to-third on a triple in about 11.5 seconds.)
Hanson has 70+ speed, clocking in at under 4 seconds from the left side going home to first. The power he showed off at West Virginia projects to regress, as Hanson is not a big man and doesn’t project to fill out a lot. He looks more like a prototypical lead-off hitter, with excellent contact skills and speed to burn.
Defensively, Hanson is challenged at shortstop, to put it kindly. It’s likely that a move to second base is in Hanson’s future. His defense, per reports, got better as the season wore on this year, with a couple scouts saying that on occasion Hanson can look like a MLB shortstop, but those reports that I’ve seen are typically very cautious. Even as a MLB second-baseman, Hanson should be an asset: a .300 hitting leadoff hitter with plenty of speed and a passable second base glove.