That day in 2021 was met with a lot of questions. Once again the Washington Nationals went into a second round pick to take a player that was seen as a back of the round or a later round talent. Sometimes you do that to save some money for another pick, but the Nats didn’t want to risk Daylen Lile, being gone when the team got to their point in the third round at pick №82. Lile was the 80th-ranked draft prospect in his class on MLB Pipeline, and Baseball America was more bullish at 62 to place him in the second round. The evaluators did not see Lile as an outfielder who would hit for power, but they liked the ‘hit’ tool. The Nats drafted him at №47 in that second round and felt great about that pick.
“We all saw [Daylen Lile] as the best high school hitter in this draft,” Nationals’ Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline told reporters after the draft in 2021.
Lile earned a reputation as one of the best pure hitters coming out of high school with the ability to spray the ball all over the field. A month later, he was getting his first taste of professional baseball in rookie ball via the Florida Complex League. Lile, the Nationals’ 16th-ranked prospect, on MLB Pipeline’s chart and №27 on Baseball America just shows how different evaluators see him. Well, he wasn’t seen much since he was out all of last year with a UCL surgery on his throwing elbow with surgery during that Spring Training. After he was drafted and signed, Lile ended his 2021 FCL season with a .219 batting average, and a strong .363 OBP because he took his walks, but that weak slugging percentage deflated that OPS to .613 in 19 games. Again, that’s okay because you also need high OBP batters in your lineup too.
Coincidentally, Lile was drafted 15-spots ahead of new teammate James Wood — a first rounder on some lists — but Wood slid far into the second round — but still got paid the same money that some first rounders would get.
Yesterday, Lile sent a reminder that he was still alive and doing well as a minor league prospect. When Victor Robles got hurt in the first inning of the game against the Tigers, Lile replaced him in the lineup and got four at-bats with three singles, a stolen base, and a defensive Web Gem as the left fielder.
— Talk Nats (@TalkNats) March 8, 2023
Back in January, Alex Hill talked with Lile and wrote a piece with some quotes in it that you can read here. The outfielder was invited to early prospects camp this year in West Palm Beach and did what you are supposed to do when you get inserted into a Spring Training game: Do something impressive! The kid flashed the leather on a diving catch and accumulated three hits. He did with some of the other veteran lefties could not do facing the same pitchers.
What we got was a glimpse of exactly what the evaluators said which was a player who could hit to all fields and Baseball America wrote this pre-draft, “He has a solid approach, with an ability to use the entire field, though scouts have said his swing is more built for hard line drives than big-time power potential. Without a ton of strength, and with a frame that doesn’t project to add a significant amount more, that could be difficult for his profile if he winds up in left field.”
Maybe Lile develops power or maybe he just is a high average lefty who will thrive in a league with no shifting. Most MLB GMs want a left fielder with ‘plus’ power, and some don’t see Lile as a center fielder where his size and speed would play to that archetype.
The kid from Trinity High School in Kentucky who won the 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Kentucky, and is now playing in his age 20 season, is big on moving forward and not looking back. You cannot get back the time lost last year, but Lile spent time talking to Carter Kieboom who went through the same UCL surgery and got some tips. He was cleared for full participation before he arrived in camp. Since his arm was mobilized after the UCL surgery, he still had his legs. He used that time to work on speed and agility. You could see that yesterday in a burst of speed, and in that stolen base.
“I’m glad to be back out here, especially [after] missing a whole season,” Lile said to Paige Leckie of MLB.com. “I mean, [it was] devastating. But it helped me work on the right body parts to be able to come back out here and have a healthy season.”
Let’s just assume that Lile won’t have the prototypical big left fielder power profile, but what if he flashes three other top tools? You know, the ones we saw yesterday: Hit, Speed, Defense. He might not have the big arm or maybe he will after the UCL surgery. Maybe he will develop power as we saw with Trea Turner when he developed backspin. The same has been said about shortstop CJ Abrams. A team needs balance and you need players to get on-base. Lile has shown an eye for the game as we saw in yesterday’s game and his time in the FCL. He will take his walks. He opened a few eyes yesterday.