01/10/13 3:23 PM ET
Dodgers prospect Lee focused on future in baseball
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
He watched the recent BCS title game and laughed along with the rest of us as announcer Brent Musburger swooned over one of the perks of being Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.
But the next day Lee was back at work at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, participating in the Dodgers Winter Development Camp with a dozen other selected prospects, another 21-year-old refining his talents on the sometimes-bumpy road to the Major Leagues.
"For me, there are 12 other guys here trying to do the same thing I'm trying to do," said Lee, ranked as the Dodgers' top prospect by MLB.com.
Lee believes he's just another Minor Leaguer in the Dodgers system, dismissing the label of "top pitching prospect" that came along with the $5.25 million signing bonus that swayed him from becoming LSU's next starting quarterback and the potential boyfriend of a beauty queen.
"When I made the decision to sign, I put football behind me," said Lee, taken in the first round by the Dodgers despite being considered by most clubs as unsignable because of his football future. "I knew it was always a route I could go if this didn't work out, but I dedicated myself 100 percent and I've been pleased with it."
Lee said he won't be allowed to cut any corners because of his bonus, nor does he express frustration that the Dodgers have just locked up two spots in the starting rotation with six-year contracts for Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, not to mention an anticipated long-term commitment for Clayton Kershaw.
"For me, it's more about what I need to do to get to where I need to be," he said. "It's competitive. I must be able to compete and help the organization win. If I'm not doing that, I don't deserve the right. It's up to me and I'm pretty confident. They want to win now. I hope at the end of the day, I fit into the system. For now, I need to refine and focus on my craft and let the organization do what they need to do. It doesn't bother me what people say. I hold myself accountable."
Lee's name surfaced in just about every significant trade rumor the Dodgers were linked to. But having invested the money and time in Lee, he's the one pitcher general manager Ned Colletti would not part with last year while dealing away pitching prospects Nathan Eovaldi, Rubby De La Rosa, Josh Lindblom, Allen Webster and Ethan Martin.
Lee would be a junior at LSU if he hadn't signed. The maturity and intelligence he displays on and off the field are part of the package that makes him a likely big league success, even though he doesn't have an overpowering pitch to go with a classic 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame.
In fact, now that he's learning how to be a professional pitcher, he sees similarities in pitching and that football job he nearly pursued.
"The preparation it takes to go into a game for a pitcher is like the preparation for a quarterback," he said. "From the standpoint of reading defenses, it's like devising how to attack a hitter's strengths and weaknesses. I saw similarities as I was a two-sport player, but as I've gotten into more of a routine on the baseball side I kind of see more than when I was a two-sport guy."
If Lee weren't a pro athlete, he said he would be a biomechanical engineer, putting to use his enjoyment for math and science to "figure out how the body functions. That's intriguing to me. Building prosthetics for amputees, the technology used to make football helmets to reduce concussions. They've made humongous strides."
Lee still has strides to make as a pitcher. Splitting 2012 between Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga, he was a combined 6-6 with a 4.39 ERA, allowing 15 homers and 129 hits in 121 innings.
He points out that he improved dramatically at the end of the season, compiling a 1.99 ERA over his last seven starts.
"I made some mechanical adjustments and I'm learning where I can miss with pitches without getting hit hard," he said. "I need to be more consistent with that."
He'll likely return to Double-A for 2013, but if the improvement continues, he's likely to show up in Los Angeles sooner rather than later. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been at the Development Camp.
"It all depends on how I do," he said. "There are still a lot of things I need to improve on to be a better player."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.