Dodgers right-handed pitching prospect Zach Lee faced a very difficult decision when he graduated from McKinney High School in Texas. Highly recruited as a gifted athlete in both football and baseball, Lee had designs on attending Louisiana State University as a quarterback.
The exceptionally fit, 6-foot-3, 195-pound Lee won 11 games and threw to a 2.15 ERA with 90 strikeouts in his senior year at McKinney. He was just as effective as a quarterback, receiving multiple scholarship offers from major colleges and universities.
A selection by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft tilted Lee's decision in the direction of baseball. The Dodgers offered him a enough of a financial commitment to win the day.
Lee began his Dodgers career in 2011 at Class A Great Lakes in the Midwest League. He had a 3.47 ERA in 24 starts covering 109 innings. He compiled an outstanding WHIP of 1.22. Already on the fast track at age 19, Lee showed an ability to throw strikes and induce ground balls with some sink on his fastball.
Lee, ranked No. 4 on the Dodgers' Top 20 Prospect list, has soared through L.A.'s system. Following his season at Great Lakes, he pitched at both Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga in 2012.
But it was his 2013 season, when he returned to Chattanooga, that showed his refinement as a pitcher. Lee made the Southern League All-Star team. He pitched so well that he won the Dodgers' organizational Pitcher of the Year Award. He appeared in 28 games, starting 25, and threw 144 2/3 innings, with an ERA of 3.22. Lee walked only 35, while striking out 131. He averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
This year, Lee is pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League for Triple-A Albuquerque.
When I saw Lee during Spring Training, he didn't exhibit one particularly overwhelming pitch. That said, Lee does have a complete repertoire of average to above-average pitches that includes a fastball that sits at 92 to 93 mph, a better-than-average slider, a very serviceable curveball and an average changeup. He does get movement and good sink on his pitches, inducing his fair share of ground balls, a pitcher's best friend.
It is impressive that Lee has enough maturity and mound presence to be able to use any pitch in his arsenal with confidence. He knows how to sequence pitches very well and won't let a hitter find a comfort zone in the batter's box. He isn't afraid to use any of his pitches at any point in the count, changing the eye level of the hitter and keeping the hitter guessing, In short, Lee is continuing to master the art and nuances of pitching rather than just throwing.
Using command and control that are beyond his age, the 22-year-old Lee is generally around the fringes of the plate. He knows the importance of throwing strike one and getting ahead in the count.
Early in his career, Lee's delivery was slowed a bit as the Dodgers staff tweaked his overall pitching mechanics. The results have been very favorable. He looks comfortable on the mound, while showing no signs of being overly aggressive or trying to overpower the hitter. He repeats his delivery very well and stays in charge of the at-bat.
Lee's future will likely be as a mid-rotation starter with an ability to give his club a chance to win when he's on the mound. While he might not have the ability of an ace, he does have the grit and pitching savvy to go deep in games. I project Lee as the type of pitcher to rack up lots of quality starts, lasting six innings or more.
From what I saw of Lee in Spring Training, he is very close to being able to help the Dodgers at the Major League level if needed this season.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.