Saturday, May 10, 2014

Collecting the Durham Bulls: Hak Ju Lee

I was really excited to see Hak Ju Lee return to the Durham Bulls this year after he got off to a great start last season, but ultimately missed most of the year due to a knee injury.  I had a chance to get my first look at Hak Ju Lee about a week and half ago.  He seemed up to par in the field, but is still working out the kinks on offense.  Lee still ranks as one of the better prospects in the Rays system and many think he is already big league ready in terms of defensive skill.  It's the offense which will be the key to Lee's eventual fate with the Rays. 

Last season Lee posted a .422/.536/.600 line during the first month of the season.  This year Lee is at .167/.302/.194.  Not so good, but there will be plenty of time for Lee to turn his season around.  Steamer actually did a projection for Lee this year, which is available on FanGraphs, and posts Lee as a .230/.300/.319 line.  While the Rays have signed Yunel Escobar to a two year contract, I am still convinced that Lee is the shortstop of the future for the team.  Here's a look at Lee batting:

Hak Ju Lee is also a fun player to collect.  There are plenty of Lee cards floating around on the secondary market.  While Lee's rookie cards were made during his Cubs days (Lee was in the Garza trade) almost all of his autographs have been made during the past two years as a Durham Bull.  He has one non-licensed certified autograph in a Leaf Valiant product.  The rest are in Bowman sets.  My favorites are in the Inception and Platinum sets.  

While many of Lee's autographs are stickers there are one or two on-card autographs floating around too.  Lee is also a fairly inexpensive find too.  The vast majority of his cards can be found for less $10, and with patience, can trend downwards towards $5.  There are plenty of other cool Lee cards too.  As a Cub Lee appeared on the World Team for the Future's Game.  Of course, Bowman made a whole bunch of jersey and patch cards of the slick fielding shortstop.  

The 2011 Bowman card is cool, but I would also recommend checking into his 2011 Topps Pro Debut Jumbo jersey.  Really cool card, with a huge piece of jersey.  There are a few limited patch cards from the Pro Debut set, but I have missed them every time they have come up online.  I'll still get one someday, hopefully.  Rare Lee cards can be a little bit competitive in terms of trading and pricing.  While Japanese players are often very popular with collectors in the US and overseas, Korean players can have some nice followings too.  Topps has given collectors what they wanted at times by making some really cool Lee cards outside of autographs and relics.  My favorites are his Pro Debut Hat Relic cards.  I do not have his card out of the 2012 set, but I do have the 2013 version.  Really cool card.  

Collectors should also be sure to check out the 2013 Topps Heritage Minor League set which features Lee in a Durham Bulls uniform set to the back drop of the 1964 Topps set.  Really nice looking cards.  Overall, Lee's cards are generally low at the moment, but he's going to be a Major Leaguer.  I have been trying to get back into some of his cards the past week or so and will posting a few nice cards of his in the coming weeks. 

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