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08/20/10 9:11 PM ET
Lee gets first Dodgers exposure
Club's top pick on hand in Los Angeles Wednesday
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- If he hadn't just signed on to become the Dodgers' next phenom, he would have been studying bio-mechanical engineering and designing prosthesis, so you know he's smart. Smart was all Zach Lee was trying to be this summer, when he never closed the door fully on a baseball career even after he began practicing at quarterback for Louisiana State. "That's kind of anything, any time you're faced with decisions," the soon-to-be 19-year-old said in a Dodger Stadium suite on Wednesday. "Anything can happen. And that's really why I wanted to leave all options open until the last minute." The last minute before Monday's midnight signing deadline, or maybe a few before it, is when the Dodgers and Lee agreed to a club record $5.25 million deal. A right-hander out of McKinney (Texas) High School, Lee was to play both football and baseball at LSU, and he fell to the Dodgers at No. 28 in June's First-Year Player Draft because of signability issues, not because of talent. Lee's Dodgers career is to begin in the Arizona Fall League, although he may sooner join the Ogden Raptors, the club's advanced rookie-level affiliate that is preparing for postseason play in the Pioneer League. He wouldn't pitch there, though -- he hasn't thrown since May. "Just to get that atmosphere," assistant general manager Logan White said. Lee's been clocked in the mid-90s, and his repertoire includes a fastball, changeup and some sort of breaking ball: "a curve that sometimes becomes a slider, and a slider that sometimes becomes a curve, depending on the day," he said. Lee is still raw, but he knows the track record the Dodgers have with young pitchers. Lee arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday, not 48 hours since the deadline passed. He left Louisiana on Tuesday night for Texas, then on to the coast for his second visit to L.A. He played in the Area Code Games here two years ago. This summer, Lee went through an offseason conditioning program and two weeks of practice with the Tigers after pulling a 4.0 grade point average in summer school there in June. Packing up his dorm room, Lee said, was quick because he's organized. But the amount of travel he's had, that's been rough. "It's a little bit overwhelming, a little bit tiring," Lee said. "But something I need to get used to, travel, going into the profession." Harder was the decision to leave the Tigers, and in all likelihood, a football career. "Extremely difficult," in fact. But the Dodgers ended up making an offer he couldn't refuse. "I felt the opportunities both ways were extraordinary," Lee said. "LSU has a great program, I really enjoyed my time being there. ... I just felt at this time the opportunity was too good to pass up." LSU head coach Les Miles was understanding, Lee said. The negotiations with the Dodgers were handled by Lee's father, Steve, who was on hand, along with Lee's mother, Julie, on Wednesday as the Dodgers introduced the top prospect behind home plate shortly before first pitch. There was even video accompaniment. "I'm very excited, very," Lee said. "Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I intend to make the most of it." Lee took a physical Wednesday, and was to officially sign his contract later in the night. Before he got the stadium, he got caught in traffic on the 110, pushing back his introductory media session. "We haven't even gotten the contract completely signed yet, and we're showing him L.A. traffic," White said. White was effusive in his praise of Lee two nights ago, saying he's a better pitcher at the same age than Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. White also called Lee a scratch golfer, which Lee said was an attempt to lose him money. Lee got a chance to meet Kershaw and other Dodgers, including LSU grad Ryan Theriot. Lee said Theriot was "a little disappointed" but understanding that he passed on a career with the Tigers. Most of those who followed Lee, the Dodgers and LSU were simply shocked. Not Lee. "I understand, I understand from kind of a broad generalization that a lot of people did think that way," Lee said. "That's all personal decision, personal choice. Anything can happen."
Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.