Rounding out the starting pitchers in our player previews is Zach Lee.
The 24 year old RHP from Plano, Texas has been with the Dodgers since 2010 when they drafted him in the first round, 28th overall. Lee received a $5.25 million dollar signing bonus to join the Dodgers. After he signed Baseball America immediately listed him as the Dodgers second best prospect in the farm system.
Zach Lee stared off the season well at AAA with the Oklahoma City Dodgers, but not too long into the season Lee expressed that he felt some irritation and tingling in his finger tips. The problem was diagnosed as poor circulation and put Zach Lee on the disabled list in order to recover. He was removed from the rotation and began taking some steps to improve the problem.
After a few rehab assignments, Lee returned to Oklahoma City AAA. He pitched a total of 19 games for the team and finished with a record of 11-6. He was 7-3 after returning from his injury. In 113.1 innings pitched Lee’s ERA was just 2.70. It looked like the problem was clearly corrected and Zach began to impress many with his talent and command on the mound.
Zach was called up on July 25, 2015 to join the Dodgers and face the Mets that evening. However, he struggled in his major league debut, allowing seven runs in just 4 2/3 innings pitched. Zach was optioned back to AAA shortly after. His hard work with the OKC Dodgers did not go unnoticed though. He was voted minor league pitcher of the year in the Dodgers organization for the second time in his career.
2016 Role and Steamers Projections
As spring training is entering its second week in the Cactus League, the Dodgers starting rotation is still in question. Coming into the 2016 regular season, there could definitely be a spot for Zach Lee if he can impress during these spring starts.
The Steamers projections for Lee are low because he does not have much experience pitching at the major league level. For the 2016 season is projects that he will only pitch one inning with the big league club and post an ERA of 4.03. Since these projections do not reflect Lee’s ability in my opinion I think the ZiPS projections for 2016 make more sense. ZiPS however assumes that Lee would be a starter with the team and make an appearance every fifth day. ZiPS projects that Lee will have a record of 11-10 in 128.7 innings pitched. ZiPS also projects that in those innings pitched, Lee will complete the season with an ERA of 3.78.
What Could Go Wrong
With starting pitchers my biggest fear is always injury. The Dodgers are already seeing some of this happen with the rotation and spring training is only a few weeks in. In Lee’s case, his injury last year with poor circulation was a bit odd. My biggest fear for what could go wrong with him is if that injury somehow connects to a bigger problem. From the sounds of it, the injury was taken care of, but you just never know.
Worst case for Lee is he starts the season again with AAA in Oklahoma City, but I personally believe if he can pitch to the best of his ability this spring that will not be the case.
What Could Go Right
Doug Padilla, from ESPN recently wrote an article about Zach Lee and his solid argument for a spot in the rotation. In the article Zach was interviewed and asked about his thoughts on the whole situation.
"“I would hope so,” Lee said. “I felt like last year I did a real good job of having a great year and establishing myself as another valuable option. Hopefully I’m brought up in that mix and should be able to hopefully contribute sooner rather than later.”"
Clearly Zach wants to contribute and to do it now, not later on in the season when the roster expands. Also in the article, Dave Roberts weighed in on his thoughts about Zach and his potential.
"“…when his command is good, when he’s down in the zone and working the cutter, the change and the sinker, changing eye levels with the fastball up, there’s some things he can do. When Zach’s right, he gets major league hitters out.”"
Zach has a lot of potential and does have a strong case to make the starting rotation. At just 24 years old, he has his whole baseball career still ahead of him. If he can stay healthy and string together some solid innings this spring, I think he will make the rotation. Either way Lee has talent, potential and time on his hands with the Dodgers.