The 2020 MLB draft is in the books, but this year it was much shorter than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of around 1,200 players being drafted over 40 rounds, there were only five rounds featuring 160 picks. That means there are a lot of amateurs left over who would normally have heard their names called in any other summer, and teams can now begin signing them for up to $20,000 each.
The Oakland A’s have already been busy on the undrafted free agent market, picking up five new players over the last two weeks (click links for more details on each):
- William Simoneit, C/IF, Wake Forest (full coverage)
- Cooper Uhl, C, Loyola Marymount (full coverage)
- Garrett Acton, RHP, Illinois (full coverage)
- Grant Judkins, RHP, Iowa (full coverage)
- Jake Suddleson, OF, Harvard (full coverage)
Now they’ve added another undrafted college player, the team announced Monday:
- D.J. Lee, OF, Richmond
Like the others before him, Lee wasn’t on any of the major pre-draft boards, not even cracking the Top 500 on Baseball America, so there aren’t any detailed scouting reports on him. But here’s some quick info.
Lee went to school at University of Richmond, in Virginia. He got a few at-bats as a true freshman before an injury ended his season, then played four full seasons after that, from 2015-19 — the final one as a grad student. That was the end of his NCAA eligibility, so he wasn’t playing in 2020 when the pandemic hit.
After playing the middle infield in high school, the 6’2, 185-pound Lee was mostly an outfielder as a college upper-classman. In 2018 he was primarily a CF, and then in ‘19 he spent some time in LF. His career stats at the plate (as a left-handed hitter), competing in the midlevel Atlantic 10 conference:
- 2016 (181 PAs): .270/.358/.392, 1 HR, 11 SB, 16 BB, 21 Ks
- 2017 (243 PAs): .279/.364/.380, 1 HR, 18 SB, 25 BB, 37 Ks
- 2018 (228 PAs): .251/.354/.344, 3 HR, 19 SB, 23 BB, 34 Ks
- 2019 (175 PAs): .275/.398/.449, 5 HR, 8 SB, 28 BB, 23 Ks
For his last three seasons at Richmond, Lee served as one of the team captains. His offensive game is based around on-base ability, control of the strike zone, and speed. He can draw walks while also making lots of contact and keeping his strikeouts in check, and once on the bases he can use his wheels to add extra value, with his career 81% success rate on steals (56-of-69). He doesn’t hit for any power, and yet still managed to tie an NCAA record by blasting two homers in one inning in a 2019 game against George Mason University:
Lee also brings two favorable pieces of makeup. One is that he was a good student at Richmond, earning a spot on the conference academic honor roll in 2019 as well as another scholar award in ‘17.
The other encouraging trait is his baseball bloodline. Like a couple other members of this A’s draft class, Lee is the son of a former pro player. His father, Derek, spent a decade in the minors, and in 1993 he played 15 games in the majors for the Twins. After that, his journeyman career included a brief stop in the A’s farm system in ‘96, for nine games. (Not to be confused with Derrek Lee, the long-time All-Star slugger.)
Last year, D.J. said the following about his baseball origin story, via the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
“The story is that I was swinging a baseball bat before I could even take my first steps,” Lee said. “My dad just told me, ‘This is how you throw a baseball,’ used my right hand, and ‘This is how you swing a bat.’”
In an extra twist, the A’s have drafted Lee before. In 2019, after his final NCAA season last summer, they picked him in the 39th round, but he didn’t sign. Now he’s ended up in the organization anyway, a year later, though technically as a free agent this time.
Like Oakland’s other undrafted signings, Lee has some limitations in his profile but also plenty of interesting strengths, on top of some enticing intangibles. He’ll turn 24 in a couple weeks, so he’s already old for a new prospect and won’t be able to start playing in the minors until at least next year. But once he does, he could add to the impressive collection of speed and athleticism in the A’s system.