Mets Minor League Mailbag: What is Khalil Lee's ceiling?

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Khalil Lee stands at second after first hit grey uniform
Khalil Lee stands at second after first hit grey uniform

SNY contributors Jacob Resnick and Joe DeMayo answer fan questions in this edition of the Mets Minor League Mailbag...

@adubsinVA: Is Carlos Cortes a major leaguer? Did he improve that much or are we talking small sample size and better hitter parks?

Jacob: Cortes, to me, has always profiled as a guy who could fill a Luis Guillorme-type role in the major leagues. That isn’t to say his tools are comparable to Guillorme’s, but Cortes has always had bench upside. Now, that has always been contingent on him hitting his way through the minors, so it’s a positive sign to see what he’s done to this point. I’d expect the organization to see if he can swim in Triple-A pretty soon. (To your last point, Binghamton traditionally runs as a pitcher’s park).

Joe: I think he can be a big leaguer. As Jacob noted, his bat will need to carry him, which it has to this point. For a smaller guy listed at 5-foot-7, he does have some pop in his bat as evidenced by the six home runs and 14 doubles so far this year.

I also think he needs to increase his versatility, as when he entered the system, he played both second base and left field. He has played exclusively left field in 2021, and you will want to see him play multiple positions to really fit on a big league bench. A one-position bench player outside of catcher has limited value.

@stevedotmiller: After seeing a small chunk of the revamped minor league layout featuring fewer teams, do you see it as a positive, negative or something close to the middle?

Jacob: Things haven’t felt too different from my vantage point so far, and that’s probably because in past years the short-season leagues (which have been eliminated) would still be a couple of weeks shy of their first games at this point. Reality should hit when the Complex and Dominican Summer Leagues get underway later this summer, which will force roster cuts (teams can only have 180 active domestic minor leaguers). I still look at it all from the perspective of jobs lost -- both on the local team side and the player side -- and it’s all very difficult to come to terms with.

Joe: So far, so normal like Jacob said. It will be weird as we get later into the summer and the short-season teams aren’t playing, and some draft picks that the Mets will make next month may not even play minor league baseball this season. The jobs lost is a very unfortunate thing, and with the MLB Draft shortening to 20 rounds in 2021, and potentially shorter going forward, you are going to see fewer late-round steals like Seth Lugo.

If you choose to look at it with a glass half full, I think fewer players will lead to better pay for the minor leaguers who are in the system, and you will probably be seeing more of the cream of the crop in minor league systems instead of organizational filler. For the betterment of the game going forward, it isn’t terrible, but from the moral perspective of opportunities and jobs being limited, it does kind of stink.

@StephenJosiah13: What is a realistic ceiling for Khalil Lee and how long do you think he needs in Triple-A before being truly ready to hit major league pitching?

Jacob: As unimpressive as Lee looked in his Triple-A debut and his first crack at major league pitching, he’s been very good since getting sent back down on June 1. Through Saturday, Lee had an OPS of 1.038 with more walks than strikeouts over his last 11 games with Syracuse. As long as he returns to the majors under different circumstances than his first cup of coffee, Lee could be an average everyday outfielder. He just isn’t close to that point yet.

Joe: I think Mets fans have given up on Lee based on a very small sample size of struggles in the big leagues. He was clearly not ready from an offensive standpoint, and it shows that development is different for each person. I am not at all out on Lee, who I still comfortably rank in my top 10 prospects in the system.

Lee's ability to consistently make contact will determine his upside, as he has some power, he can run, and he can field. I think he can be a regular if he shortens his swing a bit and increases his contact ability. I think his floor is a fourth outfielder on a big league team who can be used for some power off the bench, and as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement at any outfield spot. That is a valuable asset.

@jakegoz10: What's your ETA for Jake Mangum? He's been hitting so well this year at multiple levels, I'm hopeful that perhaps he's fighting for a spot in spring training next year.

Jacob: Mangum deserves credit for reaching Double-A this quickly and flashing excitement immediately upon joining the Rumble Ponies, but he isn’t going to hit .354, as he did over his first 11 games in Binghamton, for an extended stretch. He’s hitting .125 with 11 strikeouts over his last five games through Saturday and his major league offensive ceiling is probably closer to that second statline. Could his glove get him to the majors on its own? Possibly. But you’d like to see him perform over an entire season against upper minors pitching. He’ll also be 26 on Opening Day next year.

Joe: Mangum got off to a hot start in Double-A like Jacob noted above, and he’s had a tough few games since. To me, his profile is a fourth outfielder who has shown a little more power than expected. But his defense, base running and his ability to make contact makes him a potential big leaguer, even if at an older age than normal for his level. To me Mangum could be a consideration starting at the beginning of 2022. Not comparing him as a player, but Jeff McNeil also made his big league debut at 26, so it’s not completely unheard of.