Up the Middle: Hak Ju Lee
My phone rang around 8 o’clock last night. It was one of my league mates. “Hey bub, let’s make a trade,” grumbled the voice on the line. Dynasty baseball is the best. The 2013 World Series hadn’t even been decided yet, but my league was already thinking 2014. We did not make a trade, of course, but we ended up talking baseball for over an hour and getting a few laughs out of it, and isn’t that kind of the point of fantasy baseball? I love that dynasty leagues never really have an offseason, but there’s another side to the coin. Dynasty league owners tend to be pretty dedicated, rarely abandoning teams or letting their squads go any more than a day or two without careful tending to. They also know their baseball for the most part, and considering how deep some leagues can get, it can be pretty difficult to acquire talent.
In my experience, there are two paths I can take to acquire players without paying through my nose. One is by getting in on a prospect on the ground floor, before he hits any top rankings lists or even sniffs anything past rookie ball. The other is by taking a chance on a player whose perceived value is low due to an injury. This doesn’t really apply to guys like Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy, whose names alone hold value. I’m referring more to mid-level prospects or “older” guys. I put older in quotes because I have a hard time referring to a 23-year-old as older. One such player is Rays’ shortstop prospect Hak Ju Lee.
Both Lee and Chris Archer came to the Rays from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. Lee’s value has yo-yoed a bit over the past few years, but he started off the 2013 season with a bang, hitting over .400 while walking almost 20% of the time. He scored 13 runs and stole 6 bases in his first 15 games with the Durham Bulls. Then it all went to hell. He tore up his knee trying to turn a double play and missed the remainder of the season. Tim Beckham fans rejoiced, but those of us who saw some value in Lee and were hoping to see him get a shot with the big club in 2013 were pretty bummed. How the injury will affect him going forward is still anybody’s guess, but there is reason to believe he could be back up to speed in 2014. In the meantime, the already underrated prospect took a big hit in terms of his prospect buzz value, making him a nice target for dynasty players that are willing to take on an injured player in hopes of a value.
While the missed at-bats will surely hurt, if Lee can bounce back from this injury, he still has a lot of things going for him. The lack of depth in the organization and his defensive abilities should keep him near the top of the Rays’ short list of options at shortstop. Also, although his 2012 season was considered disappointing, he still managed to steal 37 bases and score 68 runs in 116 games. Despite the small sample size, it’s also worth noting how good Lee was this year before the injury. A similar start in 2014 could have him seeing time at the Trop sooner rather than later. If you can land him at a price discounted for injury, Lee could end up being one of the better bargains at the shortstop position in dynasty leagues.