Zach Lee is no stranger to the public eye.
After being drafted 28th overall by the Dodgers in 2010, the team's top prospect has vaulted through the Minors -- he was Double-A Chattanooga's youngest hurler this season -- and currently stands at No. 42 in MLB.com's Top Prospect rankings. Most recently, the 21-year-old was one of a dozen Dodgers Minor Leaguers invited to the team's annual Winter Developmental Minicamp in Glendale, Ariz.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander has shown flashes of dominance while posting respectable numbers over his two professional seasons, going 15-12 with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP since his debut in 2011. Lee allowed a run or fewer in five of his final six starts with Chattanooga this season, including a pair of scoreless six-inning efforts.
A two-sport star at McKinney (Texas) High School, Lee had originally committed to play baseball and football at Louisiana State University before instead deciding to pursue a professional baseball career. He discussed his decision to sign, his offseason regimen and his feelings about his top prospect status with MiLB.com during the minicamp.
MiLB.com: So you're down in Arizona at the Dodgers minicamp right now. How have you enjoyed that experience so far?
Zach Lee: I'm enjoying it a lot. There's a lot of great information and knowledge here, and it's in a more one-on-one setting. I've really learned a lot and I'm just trying to soak it all in. It's been a blast so far.
MiLB.com: How would you evaluate your performance this past season?
Lee: I had a pretty good year. I made some adjustments down the stretch that I feel were really working well for me. I thought I finished the year really well, stats-wise and stuff-wise. I kind of came into my own in that second half when I got moved up to Double-A. I feel like we're definitely going in the right direction, but there's still a lot of stuff that I need to improve on.
MiLB.com: Is there any one start that sticks out in your mind as particularly memorable?
Lee: There was one start I made in Tennessee [on Aug. 22] probably two games after we made those adjustments that I was talking about. I ended up going 5 1/3 perfect [innings] in that one. Me and Gorman Erickson, the catcher at that point, were really locked in; we had a gameplan going in and we executed it. I really feel like that was a turning point for me. I had faced that Tennessee team a couple of times and had some struggles early in the year, and I was able to come out and establish myself early and really dominate that game right from the get go. It was a real momentum starter for the rest of the year. (Lee allowed a run on two hits over a season-high seven innings in the outing.)
MiLB.com: MLB.com ranks you as the top prospect in the Dodgers system and in the top 50 overall in the Minors. Do you feel any added pressure being such a highly touted guy?
Lee: Not really. There's always going to be pressure no matter what level you play at. Any time you're on someone's radar you're going to have pressure, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. I expect myself to succeed, I expect myself to develop and I expect myself to go out there and win. I don't really focus on what people have to say about me -- I'm able to kind of put the pressure on myself and hold myself accountable for what I need to do. I really feel that I'm the kind of person that can be a self-evaluator and assess what I have to assess.
MiLB.com: You committed to play both baseball and football at LSU coming out of high school. What went into your decision to sign with the Dodgers instead?
Lee: There were quite a few things that came up. One, it was a great opportunity with a great team with a lot of history. You have those great names like [Sandy] Koufax, [Don] Drysdale, Orel Hershiser, there are a lot of pitchers that have come up through this system with the Dodgers and have become great. Now you have Clayton [Kershaw], who just came up recently and has pitched at a high level for a couple of years now. You also look at their [reputation] for developing pitchers -- it's been very strong for a long time. They're willing to develop pitchers quickly and get them up [to the Majors] when they feel they're ready. And ultimately I felt that, down the road, baseball was going to be my future as far as pursuing a career in professional sports. It was an opportunity for me and my family that was too good to pass up on at that point.
MiLB.com: Do you ever miss playing football?
Lee: No, not really, I'm pretty happy where I'm at. I enjoy meeting all the guys I have in baseball and I enjoy the baseball aspect of it. I do enjoy watching some of the guys I played with [in football], and I wish them the best of luck in their careers. And if it doesn't work out in baseball, which hopefully it does, there's always that to fall back on. But I'm pretty happy with where I am right now and I'm looking forward to moving forward.
MiLB.com: What have you been up to since the season ended?
Lee: Not a whole lot. I went to one of my buddy's weddings, but other than that I just took a little bit of time off and then started working out again and went through the same process of getting my body in shape and ready for the next year. I worked on a few small issues that we had and tried to improve my body so next year I can go longer, throw more innings, stay healthy and stay on the field more.
MiLB.com: Growing up, were there any Major Leaguers you tried to model your game after?
Lee: To be honest with you, when I was growing up, I didn't watch a whole lot of sports. If there were sports on I would watch them, but I wasn't really a diehard fan. But when I started getting more into watching baseball, I really respected Greg Maddux as far as what he was able to do throughout his career. He came in and was able to command the ball and make the adjustments that allowed him to stay dominant for so long.
I also enjoyed watching Roger Clemens because he was a huge competitor. He would go out there every day and give you his all every time he stepped on the mound. He kind of had that bulldog mentality. If you were going to beat him, you were going to have to do it the tough way, which I feel was a great attribute to look up to. It's always fun to watch that type of guy.