Khalil Lee pickup gives Mets higher minor-league option in center field

Khalil Lee Mets
The Mets acquired Khalil Lee from the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike regimes past, the Mets aren’t turning a blind eye to their farm system under Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson.

One of the organization’s top priorities this offseason was to replenish the farm system, even though they dipped into those assets when acquiring Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Cleveland Indians.

They added another prospect to their ranks late Wednesday, acquiring the Royals’ No. 8 prospect, Khalil Lee, in a three-team trade that was headlined by the Boston Red Sox sending Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City.

The Mets parted with Josh Winckowski, who they acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Steven Matz trade at the end of January, and a player to be named later.

In that same trade with Toronto, the Mets added more prospects to the farm, picking up pitchers Sean Reid-Foley and Yennsy Diaz as well. Upon his arrival, Diaz was ranked as the No. 30 prospect within the team’s farm system by MLB Pipeline.

Lee is slated to be higher on that list while he provides the Mets with a bona fide outfielding option in the upper levels of their minor-league system.

After former general manager Brodie Van Wagenen made the ill-fated decision to send center fielder Jarred Kelenic to the Seattle Mariners for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, the Mets had been thin on young outfielders in double and triple-A.

Before the acquisition of Lee, the Mets had three outfielders ranked within their top 30 by MLB pipeline, but Pete Crow-Armstrong (5), Alexander Ramirez (13), and Freddy Valdez (14) are in the lowest levels of the system.

At 22 years old, Lee impressed in double-A during the 2019 season, slashing .264/.363/.372 with eight home runs, 51 RBI, and 53 stolen bases in 129 games. However, his 154 strikeouts during that span is the largest red flag to address.

The Mets have considerable uncertainties regarding the center field position, especially after the 2021 season when the designated hitter is expected to make its way to the National League.

Brandon Nimmo — a natural left fielder — will play out of position this season, ensuring Dominic Smith can get at-bats as a left fielder, far from his natural position at the Pete Alonso-occupied first base.

For defensive insurance, the Mets brought on the light-hitting Albert Almora as Nimmo’s backup after missing out on George Springer in free agency while passing on Jackie Bradley Jr.

When the DH comes to the National League next year, Nimmo will move to left while Smith and Alonso should cycle between first base and DH duties. That will leave a sizable hole in center field that Almora has proven he can’t fulfill while in Chicago with the Cubs.

Lee could have an opportunity to make a push toward MLB playing time this season and with the Mets’ uncertainties in center, provides at least another option to consider moving forward.