At this time a year ago, none of you had ever heard of Braxton Lee. Admit it!
But thanks to a few lucky bounces and a lot of hard work, he’s headed toward a fascinating age-24 season. A dearth of quality Miami Marlins outfielders cleared the way for Lee to earn a 40-man roster spot. The major league coaching staff will take a long look at the Picayune, Mississippi native during spring training.
As MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro recently projected, it’s not so crazy to envision Lee...
- Making the Opening Day active roster
- Starting fairly regularly from the get-go
- Batting at or near the top of the lineup
(Though Fish Stripes’ Mitch Custer is more skeptical that he’ll rise quite so quickly.)
Let’s get to know him. Lee was not available for an interview with us (many of the other prospects have been, if you’re into that sort of thing), but there is still plenty to discuss.
Lee only joined the Marlins midway through the 2017 season, one of the two prospects received in June’s Adeiny Hechavarria trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. Right-handed pitcher Ethan Clark was the other.
The Rays believed they were “selling high” on their former 12th-round draft selection. Lee got off to a fast start with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, batting .321/.391/.401 with two home runs in 67 games. Doesn’t seem like much power production, but keep in mind, he failed to leave the yard even once in his previous professional experience (0 HR in first 276 games).
To Miami’s pleasant surprise, Lee sustained those offensive contributions with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He slashed .294/.398/.364 in 60 games after the trade while succeeding on 8 of 10 stolen base attempts (improving on his 12-for-23 performance with the Biscuits, a 52.2 percent success rate).
The Jumbo Shrimp also play in the Double-A Southern League, so Lee’s competition was roughly the same during the latter half of the summer. Overall, he edged out minor league journeyman Jonathan Rodriguez for the league’s batting title, .3089 (147-for-476) to .3088 (134-for-434).
Although difficult to quantify defense below the MLB level, Lee demonstrated all the tools of a legitimate center fielder. In 125 regular season contests at the position, he racked up 18 assists. For context, no outfielder has topped that total during a major league campaign since Jeff Francoeur in 2012, who finished with 19 assists in 147 defensive appearances.
And Lee offers much more than just a strong throwing arm:
There’s no denying that was an amazing catch. Even ESPN’s SportsCenter agreed!
After getting swept in three games by the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in the 2017 postseason, Lee still had more baseball left in him. He was one of seven Marlins prospects who saw playing time with the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.
So he already knows the feeling of wearing an authentic MLB uniform.
It must’ve been a comfortable fit. Despite going up against some of the most highly regarded young players in the sport, Lee slashed .347/.398/.400 with eight stolen bases in only 20 games. That earned him an invitation to the Fall Stars Game.
“All the prospects there actually helped me out. For me not being a prospect and never been one, it was nice for me to be there because I felt like an underdog,” he told Patrick Ochs of the Sun Herald in a December conversation. “I know that feels good for a lot of people and sparks something more inside of them to just showcase their ability. I really enjoyed it.”
As seen in the previous GIFs, Lee is a legitimately speedy player. However, that alone won’t carry him to a fruitful career. Fellow Marlins outfielder Magneuris Sierra has even more extraordinary running ability, and we had reservations about how he’ll acclimate to the majors in the absence of solid contact.
Lee’s breakout campaign was heavily BABIP-driven (Batting Average on Balls In Play). He posted a .386 BABIP in Montgomery and Jacksonville combined. In recent seasons, the MLB BABIP has settled around .300. Some regression is inevitable once he receives the call-up to the highest level and opposes world-class fielders every game.
Stylistically, Lee does bear some resemblance to Marlins teammates and predecessors. His ground ball rate this past year (54.0 percent) was straight up Christian Yelich-esque (55.4 percent in 2017). And take a look at this leaderboard of qualified Southern League batters, sorted by their usage of the opposite field:
2017 Southern League Leaders - Opposite Field Percentage
Not only was Lee in front, he led by a country mile. We simply don’t see such extreme splits from everyday players. The only individual in Marlins franchise history to spend any season of 100-plus plate appearances spraying batted balls the other way at a higher rate was catcher Mike Redmond (2004). He’s also the MLB career leader with a 42.4 Oppo% since Baseball Info Solutions began collecting this data in 2002.
Perhaps this unique offensive profile will allow him to continue overachieving.
Braxton Lee will likely split 2018 between Triple-A New Orleans and the major leagues.