Southern notes: Lee tweaks delivery

Lookouts righty gets back on track after altering his arm slot

By Guy Curtright / Special to | August 20, 2012 8:31 PM

As the Los Angeles Dodgers worked to upgrade their roster prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, one thing was clear: the team might have been determined to make a run at the National League West title, but it wasn't eager to include right-handed pitcher Zach Lee in any potential deal for veteran talent.

The Dodgers have too much invested in Lee, and his future is just too bright.

As July turned to August, though, the team's No. 1 prospect wasn't really living up to his billing with Chattanooga.

Lee was solid in his Double-A debut after being promoted from the Class A Advanced California League, but then he went into a funk.

"I wasn't very good at all," he said.

Over six starts, Lee went 0-3 with an ERA of 9.51 and nearly as many walks as strikeouts.

But that was then and this is now.

Lee -- No. 32 among's Top 100 Prospects -- is 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his past three outings and has 11 strikeouts to three walks over the 17 innings.

"They say you really can't learn a lot from success, and it's true," said Lee, who doesn't turn 21 until Sept. 13. "I think they want you to have tough times in the Minors.

"When I first came up [to Chattanooga], they didn't change anything. I think they wanted to see how things would play in Double-A first, and it obviously didn't play very well."

That gave Lookouts pitching coach Chuck Crim and Dodgers pitching coordinator Rafael Chavez an opportunity to go to work.

"They lowered my arm slot to three-quarter, slowed me down a little and cleaned up and fine-tuned my mechanics," Lee said. "I've put in a lot of time and it is still a work in progress. But the results I've gotten speak for themselves."

For someone his age, Lee has an advanced approach to pitching. He has both a slider and curve to complement his fastball and also uses an occasional changeup. His fastball usually sits in the low 90s, but he can crank it up to the mid-90s with ease when needed.

"The fastball and the slider are my out-pitches," Lee said. "I usually use my curve early in the count."

The former quarterback threw a curve by signing with the Dodgers rather than play football and baseball at LSU. Many thought the team had thrown away a first-round pick by taking Lee 28th overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

It was known that it would require a deal of around $5 million to get Lee to skip college, and he was well into football practice at LSU when the Dodgers met his price just before the Aug. 16 deadline.

Lee received a $5.25 million deal to be paid out over five years. It was the biggest signing bonus awarded to a Draft pick in Dodgers history, shattering the mark of $2.3 million given to Clayton Kershaw, another pitcher from Texas, in 2006.

"I love football," said Lee, who set passing records at McKinney High School outside Dallas. "But that chapter of my life is done, at least for now."

Lee took summer classes at LSU and couldn't see football not being a part of his immediate future. Then he did an about-face.

"In the long run, I figured I was going to be a baseball player," Lee said. "So I thought my best chance for success was to get started."

Lee was 9-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 24 games with Great Lakes of the Class A Midwest League last season and started this year with Rancho Cucamonga, where was 2-3 with a 4.55 ERA in 12 outings despite missing time with a groin strain.

Then came the real challenge with the promotion to Chattanooga. Along with the struggles came the trade talk.

"It was an anxious time," said Lee, who saw Nathan Eovaldi and Lookouts teammate Ethan Martin dealt by the Dodgers for veteran help. "You learn quickly that baseball is a business."

But the Dodgers made sure to hang on to Lee. He might have been LSU's starting quarterback this fall. Instead, he has already begun working his way to Los Angeles.

"I'm confident I made the right decision," Lee said.

In brief

Hot month: Pensacola outfielder Josh Fellhauer was nearly as hot as the weather in August, batting .360 in the first 15 games of the month. That pushed his average to .303 and he wasn't far off the lead in the Southern League batting race. Mississippi outfielder Todd Cunningham led with a .308 average, but was hitting just .243 for the month. Cunningham and Fellhauer are the only qualified hitters in the league batting over .300.

Good first impression: Trayce Thompson hit .409 with a double, a triple, two homers and four RBIs in his first six games with Birmingham after being promoted from Winston-Salem of the Class A Advanced Carolina League. The outfielder was a second-round pick in the 2009 Draft and is ranked as the Chicago White Sox's No. 2 prospect. Thompson, 21, had 22 homers and 90 RBIs at Winston-Salem.

Fifth hit a winner: Jackson first baseman Rich Poythress capped a five-hit game with a walk-off single in the 13th inning as the Generals defeated Mississippi, 7-6, on Friday. He was 5-for-7 with a double, a triple and four RBIs. Poythress, a second-round pick by Seattle in the 2009 Draft out of the University of Georgia, was hitting .310 in 74 games after a long stint on the disabled list.

Swing and miss: Jacksonville hitters were on pace to challenge the Southern League record for strikeouts in a season. With 14 games to go, the Suns had fanned 1,080 times through Sunday. The record is 1,219 by Carolina in 2007. Outfielder Kyle Jensen was second in the league with 155 strikeouts and catcher Kyle Skipworth was fourth with 123.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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