While Maryland baseball shortstop AJ Lee was an underclassman at St. John's College High School, he watched highly touted recruit Errol Robinson star at shortstop and earn a scholarship from Ole Miss.
After Robinson — a sixth-round 2016 MLB Draft pick — graduated, Lee started at shortstop as a junior and senior and committed to Maryland.
He went through a similar process in College Park, spending his first two seasons behind Kevin Smith on the shortstop depth chart, before the Toronto Blue Jays selected Smith in the fourth round of the 2017 draft.
After living up to Robinson's legacy at St. John's, earning favorable comparisons to the Dodgers prospect from their high school coach, Lee is aiming to do the same with Smith at Maryland after taking over at shortstop this season.
"[Robinson] was definitely a big infield influence on me," Lee said. "He's one of the guys I always looked up to when I was young in high school. So to be compared to him, I mean, that's pretty special, because the things he can do defensively are kind of unreal."
After starting at third base last season to fill a need for the Terps, Lee has shifted to shortstop as a junior. Despite three errors so far this season, the Millersville native has flashed the leather that drew the comparison to Robinson, and Maryland hopes he can continue his success as it prepares for four games in four days against Delaware and Bryant this weekend.
In the Terps' 10-4 win over Tennessee on Feb. 18, Lee's diving stop behind the second base bag in the eighth inning preserved the level score line.
During Maryland's Feb. 24 matchup with Army, Lee leapt up and saved a throw from catcher Ty Friedrich before whipping the tag down to nab a would-be base-stealer. After showing the umpire the ball, Lee flipped it to second baseman Nick Dunn and casually walked back to his position.
Lee takes pride in his defense, but learned to take the most efficient route to the ball as a high schooler, he said, resulting in some plays appearing easier than they might for another player.
"It wasn't like any play was unbelievable," St. John's coach Mark Gibbs said. "He made every play he had look relatively routine, and I think that's the mark of a good shortstop. It's not, 'Oh my God, he turned that slow roller into a highlight reel.' He made that slow roller look like it should've been made."
After playing primarily as a defensive replacement as a freshman at College Park, Lee burst onto the scene in 2017 as the Terps' starting third baseman, filling a gap after reigning starter Andrew Bechtold transferred.
Playing out of position was an example of the team-first attitude Gibbs said Lee has displayed since his days as a Cadet. Even after earning Washington, D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year honors his junior and senior high school seasons and being named the 2015 Washington Post All-Metro Player of the Year, Lee didn't develop a big ego, Gibbs said. If asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt, he did.
Lee picked the brains of Robinson and eventual first-round pick right-hander Nick Howard throughout his time at St. John's, and when he got to Maryland, he did the same with Smith. Learning from three MLB prospects has aided Lee's transition as the leader of the Terps' infield, Maryland coach Rob Vaughn said.
"I think young guys, everyone tells them how good they are. AJ came in here and wanted to learn," Vaughn said. "He took over for a dude at St. John's College [High School], he just took over for a dude here. But he learned a lot. You watch those guys play day-in and day-out, you watch them communicate and play side-by-side, I mean, AJ hasn't missed a beat since he slid over there."