Prospect Watch: Dodgers’ Lee shines

 Prospect Watch: Dodgers Lee shinesI attended Sunday’s game between Tacoma and Albuquerque, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Albuquerque’s lineup featured two of the Dodgers top prospects: pitcher Zach Lee and center fielder Joc Pederson.

Zach Lee, RHP
Lee is an athletic 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander. As a high schooler, he was recruited to play quarterback by LSU, and his athleticism is evident on the mound. He works with a smooth and repeatable high three-quarters delivery. I really liked his arm action; as he delivers, he scapulates and extends his arm well and he’s able to throw all of his pitches without altering his arm slot or reducing his arm speed. He gets long leg extension — which lets him “lean” a little closer to the plate — and he hides the ball well. He throws a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, along with a curve, change up, and although he didn’t use it much today, a slider as well.

Lee is a crisp thrower, though his velocity won’t blow anyone away. His fastball hit 93 mph, but he sat mostly 90-91 with some two-seam life. His curveball was 74-76 and his good ones featured true 12-6 movement. He can throw the pitch for strikes, which is good because it isn’t a swing and miss pitch. He simply doesn’t throw it with much velocity, and hitters weren’t chasing curves out of the zone. Lee’s changeup has arm-side fade and he located the pitch well throughout, never leaving one up in the zone.

I was disappointed to not see more of Lee’s slider. Reportedly, it’s his best secondary offering, but of the innings I sat behind the plate — I watched him a bit from the third base side too — the only sliders he threw were in warm ups.

What impressed me most about Lee was how good he was at staying out of trouble spots in the strike zone. He allowed just two hits and one walk, and arguably made just one mistake, elevating a straight fastball to Cole Gillespie. Gillespie took advantage, roping a double into the gap to generate Tacoma’s only two runs against Lee. Besides that pitch, Lee was able to live on the edges of the strike zone and he showed a good feel for pitching by working both sides of the zone. A couple of times, I thought I caught him attacking the umpire as well as the hitters: more than once, he followed up a strike one fastball with another fastball a hair farther off the plate.

Lee doesn’t have strikeout stuff and consequently most prospect evaluators have been conservative when projecting his major league role. While I don’t want to put too much weight on one outing — particularly a start where he was limited to 69 pitches and didn’t have to turn over the order a third time —  from what I saw, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be more of a No. 3 instead of a back end arm. Lee lives down in the zone, and he spots his off speed pitches well enough that I think he’ll be able to compensate for his lack of strikeouts by limiting walks and generating weak contact.

Joc Pederson, OF
Pederson also performed well. He went 3-for-5 and made solid contact in his four plate appearances. He didn’t have much to hit on the inner half of the plate and did well to line a single to left in the first, following that up with two hard grounders for singles up the middle.

Pederson has very quick hands, which not only helps him generate bat speed but also allows him to let pitches travel deep in the zone. That skill was evident in his first at-bat particularly, when he lined an elevated fastball to left. It’s worth noting that all three of his hits came against left-hander Anthony Fernandez.

In the field, Pederson didn’t have too much to do. He’s a quick athlete, but never had to really run for a fly ball. He did have an opportunity to air out a throw to the plate, and I saw more of a 50-55 arm than the plus tool I’ve read about in scouting reports. Again though, it’s just one throw, so I don’t want to read too much into it. If his range ultimately doesn’t play in center though, it seems like he would be more likely to slide to left field than to right.

Carson Smith, RHP
Smith had a Triple-A debut to forget. He faced seven batters, allowing two hits — one of which can be attributed to Jesus Montero’s extreme lack of athleticism; more on him later — and three walks, two of which were four pitch free passes with the bases loaded. Not what you want to see from a reliever in a blowout.

Part of Smith’s struggles may be mechanical. He has a funky delivery where he starts with a drop and drive but almost pauses midway through; his leg nearly stops and his upper body seemingly twists to the right as he prepares to throw. Between the hitch and a low three quarters arm slot, it’s not hard to see why he’s a little wild (he’s walked 3.6 hitters per game as a minor leaguer).

Smith started the inning throwing in the low 90’s, but after his third batter, he was sitting 87-88. The pitch has strong two-seam bite, but as you might infer from the box score,  he struggles to control it. His slider sits in the low 80’s and is clearly a work in progress. Some of his sliders featured vertical drop while others had almost entirely horizontal movement. This was clearly not Smith’s best outing, but it did shine a light on what he needs to work on and helped to answer why the Mariners called upon Dominic Leone — instead of Smith — when a roster spot opened up last week.

Jesus Montero, 1B/DH
For Montero, it’s DH or bust as a major league player. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’s the worst defensive first basemen I’ve seen among professional players. He can’t — or doesn’t want to — bounce off of first when he’s holding a runner, so he’s essentially limited to covering the line with a man on base, and as you might expect, his range is basically limited to what he can reach while standing.

One of the hits Smith allowed was a soft liner about 12 feet to Montero’s left. Most big-league first basemen would have pocketed the ball easily, but Montero only made it about half way there before it bounced and spun softly into right field. For good measure, he also booted a grounder hit right at him, though he did recover in time to get the out. We’ve always known that Montero’s bat would carry him as a professional, and it’s never been clearer that he can’t do anything other than hit.

Written by Brendan Gawlowski

Author, Prospect Insider
Brendan Gawlowski has been writing about the Mariners since 2010.

website Prospect Watch: Dodgers Lee shinestwitter Prospect Watch: Dodgers Lee shines

12 comments on “Prospect Watch: Dodgers’ Lee shines

  1. rjfrik says:

    Yeah I see the same thing Jason. Nick Franklin is better the Joc Pederson. I think it’s funny how people are wanting to trade Franklin + for Pederson. Even if it was a straight up trade I would think we end up on the losing side.

  2. Jason A. Churchill says:

    Nick Franklin>Joc Pederson.

    And Guerrero was guaranteed $28 million. He’s GOING to get a chance — an extended chance — to be what the Dodgers believed he was when they gave him that money before they go out and give up value for another 2B.

  3. Nighthawk: Guerrero is 27 years old and isn’t big league ready yet. Time will tell how good of a major leaguer he will be, but I can’t see the Dodgers letting a 4/$28 deal stop them from adding talent to a position that desperately needs it right now. Dee Gordon and Chone Figgins are not starters for a team like that and if Guerrero is behind them right now…

  4. rudolf says:

    The Dodgers hardly have depth at 2B. Dee Gordon is probably not the long-term answer, and they might need him to shift to short over if Hanley leaves via FA. Even if Hanley stays Gordon might take over short because Hanley is better served filling the 3B hole you mention. Alex Guerrero may have been paid well, but all he’s proven is that he wasn’t good enough to make the 25-man-roster out of spring training. If Gordon tanks and Guerrero doesn’t figure things out for a year or two, (or ever) the Dodgers absolutely need a solid middle infielder like Franklin.

  5. […] league hitters. Brendan Gawlowski had a good recap of his start at Prospect Insider, and you should check that out here. He was taken with Lee’s ability to generate weak contact, and it’s true, Lee got some […]

  6. Nighthawk180 says:

    Sorry for the double post but I forgot to mention Hanley Ramirez as their SS. Unfortunately it doesnt work the real problem is finding out what they are lacking and seeing if we match. Their weakest spot in their starting lineup is 3b in Uribe and he isnt all that bad himself not ideal but not horrible either. They have surplus 2b and outfield and we need outfield help and have a MI surplus. I have wanted Peterson for a couple of seasons now but it just doesnt match.

  7. Nighthawk180 says:

    Brendan,

    Nick Franklin doesnt fit with LA at all really. They have 2b Alex Guerrero for 4/28mil. and Dee Gordon. Franklin is a good player but they have their future already for 2b. Not to mention Joc Pederson is a very good outfielder who is cheap considering LA payroll. I want Joc as much as anyone and the proposed swap makes sense for us doesnt at all for Dodgers.

  8. Brendan Gawlowski says:

    Actually, a Pederson-Franklin swap makes some amount of sense. The Dodgers are definitely a team that could use Franklin’s services right now, and Joc is pretty well blocked.

  9. Rudolf says:

    Seriously, Kirk? How about Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, and Felix Hernandez. Is that enough for superstar minor-leaguer Joc Pederson?

  10. 11records says:

    It’s small sample size theater, but Nick Franklin is definitely helping his value. Maybe as much as Jesus Montero is continuing to flush his.

  11. Kirk Davis says:

    God that would be an awesome thing if we could ever land pederson but I dont think they would let him get away. Maybe franklin and a catching prospect plus some pitching.

  12. mgvernon says:

    With Pederson as a quality backup and Kemp, Puig, Ethier and Crawford keeping the OF manned maybe the Dodgers would part with Scott Van Slyke for one of our surplus pieces, but not Franklin, maybe LoMo or Beavan or such. Might not be a good idea with his dad as our OF coach. They have been uninterested in talking about trading Pederson but now Kemp is firing maybe they would flip him for a package built around Erasmo or Franklin with a minors filler.

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