Once considered the crown jewel of the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, former first-round draft pick Zach Lee continues to tumble in the team’s prospect rankings despite relatively consistent numbers.
Chosen by the Dodgers with the 28th overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Lee had previously committed to play quarterback for the LSU Tigers, but ex-Assistant GM Logan White swooped in with a signing bonus offer of $5.25 million, which eventually persuaded Lee to stick with baseball.
After a solid age-19 season with the Great Lakes Loons in 2011, Lee was unanimously ranked #1 among all Dodgers’ prospects in 2012, and many scouts viewed him to have the potential to be at least a #2 starter in the bigs.
He began 2012 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga, and continuing to climb the organizational ladder, progressed quickly to Double-A Chattanooga. In 2013, Lee secured a spot in the Southern League All-Star game and compiled a 10-10 record with a 3.22 ERA in 28 appearances. He struck out 131 batters over 142 innings that season, sporting a 8.3 K/9.
In the high desert of Albuquerque in 2014, his numbers declined as expected, as he put together a 7-13 record over 150 innings of work, with a 5.39 ERA, a 1.537 WHIP and a meager 5.8 K/9.
Not including his shaky debut in the bigs, Lee found reasonable success with Oklahoma City last season. But with the ascension of players like Julio Urias, José De León and Yadier Alvarez, he continues to plummet in the prospect rankings.
Preliminary rankings for 2016 have him placed in the #13 – #15 range within the Dodgers’ organization.
After beginning his career with a ceiling of a possible #2 starter, many scouts now view him as a potential #4 or #5 at best.
All that being said, does Zach Lee have any value to a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers and their immediate needs?
His command is still sharp, which was made evident by his 1.5 BB/9 last season. His sinker is consistently solid, resulting in a 50% ground ball rate. His slider is still developing, which will eventually compliment his four-seamer, changeup and above-mentioned sinker. He still shows plenty of velocity with the heater, so there is some upside.
It’s tough to speculate how he fits in with the Dodgers. Heading into 2016, the rotation at Triple-A OKC is extremely crowded, and it may be possible that he’s packaged in some type of potential trade scenario. Regardless, he is one of three pitchers in the minors that is considered MLB-ready, and may get a call-up at some point depending on how much starting pitching depth the Dodgers stash via trade or free agency.
As for the long term, with players like Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood around for several more years, it’s hard to see Lee being a fit in the back end of a rotation that soon may be featuring Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, De León and Urias up front.
With all the the new talent emerging, perhaps the Dodgers’ best bet is to find a deal for Lee with another squad who would appreciate the ceiling of a #4 or #5-type starter, especially before his value slips any further.
After all, at one point he was completely untouchable.
(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)