By: Danny Will
Not many life-altering decisions have to be made when one is at the young age of 18. Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher Zach Lee was faced with one of those decisions. A two-sport star at McKinney High School in McKinney, Texas, Lee graduated in 2010 and committed to LSU to play quarterback.
Things slowly started to change though after the Los Angeles Dodgers made him the 28th overall selection in the 2010 MLB Draft in June and despite being enrolled in summer school in Baton Rouge, Lee made the ultimate decision to choose baseball over football.
“It was a very tough decision,” Lee said. “At the time, I kind of looked at it as a win-win situation for me. Either way it was going to be a great opportunity for me and in the end I just figured this would be the better opportunity as far as my future was going to be and for my family.”
In his senior season as a Lion, Lee threw for 2,313 yards and 28 touchdowns while also running for 419 yards and an additional nine touchdowns. Labeled a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, the prized prospect believes that taking the mound has some similarities to going under center.
“In terms of preparation, I feel like they’re quite similar,” Lee said. “From a quarterback position you really have to prepare for the defense and figure out what they’re trying to do to stop you offensively. From a pitching standpoint, you have to figure out what the hitter’s trying to do and what his game plan is and really try and work around that. So it’s really a cat and mouse game between both positions.”
Lee has been winning the cat and mouse games on the diamond this season posting a 3.10 ERA, good for seventh best in the Southern League. Lee spent half the season with the Lookouts in 2012 and finished with an ERA of 4.25 and says his ability to adapt within a game has made 2013 a more successful year.
“I’ve just been able to make adjustments,” Lee said, “throughout games and within games rather than having to make them in between starts. I’ve also really improved all of my off-speed offerings and I now feel I can throw them all in any counts. And they’ve all gotten a lot sharper over the past few months.”
Entering the season as the No. 5 prospect in the Dodgers system – according to Baseball America – Lee has been the subject of numerous trade rumors over the last year including the blockbuster deal between the Dodgers and Red Sox that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles. Lee isn’t oblivious to the trade chatter, but has learned to shrug it off and focus on himself.
“Really I can only control what I can control,” Lee said. “Fortunately I’m still here and I’m grateful for that and I’m just going to continue to work hard to reach my ultimate goal of getting up to the big leagues.”
The 21-year-old right-hander undeniably has the talent to reach his goal of getting to the Major Leagues, but anyone who has watched the Dodgers this season knows their starting rotation has some depth.
2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw leads a rotation that includes Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, both of whom recently received six-year contracts. It may be a battle to crack the Dodgers rotation for years to come, but that’s a battle that Lee is ready to fight.
“I just want to get myself in the best position possible for an opportunity and when that opportunity comes I want to capitalize on it,” Lee said. “Obviously the Dodgers are a pitching organization so there’s a lot of pride being a part of it and being so revered in it and I’m just trying to get better.”
Lee made the decision to toss aside the pigskin for the cowhide three years ago and hasn’t strayed from that path since. With the success he’s had with the Lookouts this season, he hopes that path will lead him to Los Angeles in 2014.