Dodger Thoughts: Zach Lee

Manny happy returns?

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
2:49
PM PT
Wrapping up the last week and starting a new one chock full of bullet points ...
  • Manny Ramirez is moving forward with plans to get himself back in the majors for 2012, but would probably to need to still serve 50 games as a suspended player, writes Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine. Ramirez, who turns 40 on May 30, went 1 for 17 with the Rays in 2011 before his season abruptly ended. He could show what shape he's in with a nonroster invite to some team's Spring Training.
  • The Dodgers are taking applicants to fill the position of vice president of public relations (link via AZ Snakepit). The Dodgers aren't holding off until the ownership switch to make the hire: Public relations wait for no one.
  • Clayton Kershaw was interviewed by Molly Knight for ESPN the Magazine.
  • Baseball America's annual Dodger prospects top 10 has Zach Lee on top, followed by Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and then the first position player, outfielder Alfredo Silverio. Looking at the article, you know what cracks me up? The fifth-highest amateur signing bonus in Dodger history still belongs to 2000 draftee Ben Diggins.
  • I think it's worth a reminder that Lee could be in the majors before the 2012 season is over, though it probably wouldn't be until 2013 that he begins making any kind of impact. He's about a half-season behind the development of Kershaw, whose debut came in May 2008, 23 months after the Dodgers signed him. Lee, who had a 3.47 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.22 WHIP in 2011 for Single-A Great Lakes, should hit Double-A in 2012 at age 20, the same age Kershaw was (though he's not at the same performance level as Kershaw, who had 12.4 K/9 with Great Lakes).
  • When the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine to manage, I joked on Twitter that his ESPN broadcast partners Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman could join him on the coaching staff. Well, in the case of Hershiser, the Red Sox are in fact interested in him as a pitching coach, writes Sean McAdam of Red Sox Talk – assuming Hershiser's pursuit of Doger ownership doesn't get in the way.
  • Some vintage Tommy Lasorda cursing is available in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Ross Newhan calls the theory a "longshot," but he explains the substance behind why some think Frank McCourt could renege on his commitment to sell the Dodgers.
  • More Newhan, on Magic Johnson's entrance into the Dodger ownership race:
    ... In announcing his intention to bid for the Dodgers with usual flair and enthusiasm, Johnson said he would try to build the Dodgers in the Showtime mold of his star-driven Laker teams, recruiting prominent players and paying the price for free agents.

    This is an area that Kasten and others may want to advise Johnson that it would be better to low key. Many of the 29 other owners who will eventually vote on the McCourt successor may not be happy to hear that Magic intends to pay any cost to restore Dodger prominence, driving up salaries in the process. ...
  • Two views of the Dodgers' Chris Capuano signing: Eric Seidman of Fangraphs doesn't hate it, while Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com thinks it pretty grim.
  • DodgerTalk alum Ken Levine said he will do more Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts next year.
  • Russell Martin is expected to return to the Yankees in 2012, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Ken Arneson has an interesting piece on why the opening of a Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek is meaningful to the rest of the baseball world.
What, the Dodgers still have a future?

Despite the callup of John Ely when Rubby De La Rosa went on the disabled list, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Nathan "What, no 'U'?" Eovaldi might be the Dodgers' next No. 5 starter when the rotation wheel turns that way on Tuesday. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness provides a detailed introduction to Eovaldi, who has a 2.62 ERA for Chattanooga with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

There are two things I want to add to Petriello's post this morning. The first is to compare Eovaldi's performance at Chattanooga this year to De La Rosa's work there (spread over the 2010-11 seasons).

Eovaldi (born February 13, 1990): 103 innings, 6.6 hits per nine IP, 4.0 walks per nine IP, 8.7 strikeouts per nine IP, 2.62 ERA in 2011.
De La Rosa (born March 4, 1989): 91 innings, 6.7 hits per nine IP, 4.3 walks per nine IP, 11.7 strikeouts per nine IP, 2.08 ERA in 2010-11.

There are similarities, with the most noteworthy difference being De La Rosa's dominant strikeout rate, which makes Eovaldi's strong numbers smaller in stature. Given that Eovaldi is almost a year younger than De La Rosa but would be making his major-league debut fewer than three months later, I think we can be quite excited about him in the long term, but should certainly temper our expectations in the short run.

Is Eovaldi being rushed? Well, I think his potential callup should be looked at the same way that earlier stints for Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon were. It's not a permanent or do-or-die situation. It's an opportunity, given injuries at the major-league level, to provide a first look at the majors for a potentially important 2012 player. The pressure should be lower on Eovaldi, who unlike De La Rosa would not be making his debut while the Dodgers could still be considered in playoff contention.

The second thing I want to do is check in on ballyhooed 2010 first-round pick Zach Lee, who was drafted with the potential of being a top counterpart to Clayton Kershaw in the Dodger starting rotation.

Kershaw reached the majors on May 25, 2008 – just shy of two years after he was drafted. If Lee matched the same exact path, he would be introduced to the Dodger rotation next May. The first hitch in that plan, however, was that Lee signed so late in 2010 that he didn't play in the minors that year, while Kershaw pitched 37 innings (striking out 54 with a 1.95 ERA).

Still, let's take a look at how each performed at age 19 for Single-A Great Lakes:

Lee (born September 13, 1991): 81 innings, 8.0 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 8.1 K/9, 3.22 ERA in 2011.
Kershaw (born March 19, 1988): 97 1/3 innings, 6.7 H/9, 4.6 BB/9, 12.4 K/9, 2.77 ERA in 2007.

Kershaw was promoted before the end of the 2007 season to Double-A Jacksonville, where he had a 3.65 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 24 2/3 innings. Lee, who was slowed briefly this year by elbow soreness, might remain a step behind Kershaw's development path, given that aside from better control, he also hasn't been as dominant.

Nevertheless, we could very well see Lee in the majors by a year from now. And if you can wait a bit longer – just 21 months from now – the Dodgers' 2013 starting rotation could offer Kershaw, De La Rosa, Eovaldi, Lee and Chad Billingsley, not to mention Ted Lilly and other contenders from the farm system. Something to look forward to ...

Mark J. Terrill/APMatt Kemp executes "The Crane" to topple Kenley Jansen at the All-Valley Karate Tournament.
It says something about Clayton Kershaw that he allowed back-to-back doubles leading off the first inning and loaded the bases in the third inning and still ended up pitching shutout ball. And by the end of his seven-inning outing, when he struck out 11 and retired his last 14 batters, he had gone from backpedaling to dominating.

It was the second-straight seven-inning shutout by a Dodger starter. Meanwhile, Los Angeles scored four runs, one unearned, and that was just enough to withstand the latest bullpen meltdown for a 4-3 victory.

Matt Guerrier allowed a run in the eighth inning, and Vicente Padilla allowed two in a 32-pitch ninth before Kenley Jansen came in and struck out Melvin Mora for the final out – the 15th strikeout of the game for the Dodgers.

By holding on, the Dodgers had their second three-game winning streak of the season and moved within 2 1/2 games of first place in the National League West despite an 19-20 record.

* * *

As if we hadn't gotten enough scary medical news lately, Zach Lee entered the picture. From Jim Peltz and Kevin Baxter of the Times:
... Lee, the Dodgers' first-round pick in last June's draft, was sent to the team's minor league complex near Phoenix for an MRI test on the right-hander's pitching elbow.

Lee complained of tightness in the elbow after his last start May 5, when he went a season-long six innings, giving up one run on five hits. But he lacked his usual sharpness, striking out just one, a career low.

DeJon Watson, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for player development, characterized the test as a standard procedure for young pitchers. He said the test showed no damage and that Lee, 19, would return to Great Lakes of the single-A Midwest League, though Watson said he did not expect Lee to pitch for 10 to 15 days.

"There's nothing wrong," Watson said. "We just want to make sure he's 100%."

Some happier tidings: Shawn Tolleson, who struck out 33 of the 56 batters he faced at Single-A Great Lakes while allowing only 12 baserunners and a 0.00 ERA in 15 innings, has been promoted to Rancho Cucamonga. (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter Mike–Tink for the link.) In addition, Rancho Cucamonga reliever Steven Ames (60 batters, 28 strikeouts, 12 baserunners, 1.17 ERA) has moved up to Double-A Chattanooga.

* * *

Gathering dust: Scott Elbert has not pitched since May 9 and has thrown only one inning since May 6.

* * *

Today's game has an unusual 4:10 p.m. start. The shadows could be timely for the pitchers ...
Eric Risberg/APTrayvon Robinson
Hot starts from Dodger minor leaguers:

Trayvon Robinson, 23, OF, Albuquerque
63 plate appearances, .429 on-base percentage, .661 slugging percentage, four homers, six walks, 19 strikeouts

Jon Link, 27, RP, Albuquerque
12 1/3 innings, 16 baserunners, 10 strikeouts, 2.19 ERA

Bryan Cranston, 55, UT, Albuquerque
No stats, only video.

Corey Smith, 29, 3B, Chattanooga-Albuquerque
63 plate appearances, .397 on-base percentage, .483 slugging percentage, one homer, five walks, 10 strikeouts

Scott Van Slyke, 24, OF, Chattanooga
54 plate appearances, .463 on-base percentage, .830 slugging percentage, three homers, six walks, 10 strikeouts

Michael Antonini, 25, SP, Chattanooga
17 2/3 innings, 20 baserunners, 12 strikeouts, 1.53 ERA

Rubby De La Rosa, 22, SP, Chattanooga
15 1/3 innings, 20 baserunners, 19 strikeouts, 1.76 ERA

Nathan Eovaldi, 21, SP, Chattanooga
15 innings, 18 baserunners, 16 strikeouts, 1.20 ERA

Austin Gallagher, 22, 1B, Rancho Cucamonga
62 plate appearances, .468 on-base percentage, .632 slugging percentage, two homers, five walks, seven strikeouts

Gorman Erickson, 23, C, Rancho Cucamonga
49 plate appearances, .490 on-base percentage, .575 slugging percentage, no homers, nine walks, seven strikeouts

Steven Ames, 23, RP, Rancho Cucamonga
8 1/3 innings, seven baserunners, 15 strikeouts, 1.08 ERA

Jonathan Garcia, 19, OF, Great Lakes
65 plate appearances, .354 on-base percentage, .712 slugging percentage, six homers, five walks, 17 strikeouts

Garrett Gould, 19, SP, Great Lakes
17 innings, 14 baserunners, 12 strikeouts, 1.59 ERA

Zach Lee, 19, SP, Great Lakes
14 innings, 21 baserunners, 21 strikeouts, 1.29 ERA

Shawn Tolleson, 23, RP, Great Lakes
6 1/3 innings, seven baserunners, 16 strikeouts (out of 19 total outs), 0.00 ERA
With Giants righty Matt Cain having to rest an inflamed elbow, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles uses the occasion to marvel at San Francisco's 2010:
... It’s tough to explain now. The Giants won it all. It’s hard to go back and rediscover that sense of urgency. What were we all worried about? The trick is to start the season with a garbage offense, and then a) hope that a journeyman minor league free agent turns into vintage Carlos Beltran, b) count on a rookie catcher to come up and propel the offense for a month, and c) scour the waiver wire in case there are teams in Florida giving away productive outfielders. It turns out we were just being paranoid.

But when you hear this

"(Cain) has not thrown a baseball since he came down with elbow inflammation on Sunday, making it seem unlikely he will miss only one turn in the rotation. At the same time, he seems totally unconcerned about what he confessed is the first elbow issue of his career."

… you remember why there was urgency in the first place. The Giants were built around young pitching. Young pitching is beautiful, like, oh, a shiny idol made of solid gold. But while you stand there, mouth agape, marveling at the golden treasure, you hear the boulder. The boulder isn’t evil. It’s just obeying the laws of physics. And it’s going to crush you. It’s going to crush you real dead-like. ...

And when I hear that Matt Cain’s elbow is barking, it makes me appreciate just how danged fortunate the Giants and their fans all were. The Giants made it through an entire season with four young starting pitchers, and there weren’t any injury concerns. They didn’t have to recall Todd Wellemeyer. They didn’t have to shoehorn in Henry Sosa for a start or two. The young pitchers were good, and they were healthy. ...

It was special. Never take it for granted.

* * *

Alex Belth of Bronx Banter passes along Duke Snider stories from oldtime scribes Roger Angell and Dick Young.

* * *

There will be a $1 Dodger Dog day at Dodger Stadium on May 30 when the Rockies play.

* * *

This morning, the Dodgers played a 'B' game in which Ted Lilly made his first spring appearance, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes. And as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes, Lilly's relief crew included three former No. 1 picks – Zach Lee, Ethan Martin and Aaron Miller – whose signing bonuses alone totaled nearly $8 million. Lee was the only one of the trio to allow a run.

Later on, the Dodgers have their first night game of Spring Training ...

Dodgers at Reds, 6:05 p.m.

Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesNed Colletti is beginning his sixth season as Dodgers general manager. The team has averaged 86 regular-season victories during his tenure.
Ten days.

The Dodgers rose from the basement of the National League West in May to the best record in the league in June, then sat only two games out of first place in the division at the All-Star Break.

Yet as far as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was concerned, it was almost a mirage. During an interview at his Dodger Stadium office last week, Colletti fully acknowledged that the Dodgers' second-half fade, as much as he and everyone else tried to reverse it, came as disturbingly little surprise to him.

Ten days. In Colletti's view, that's how long the Dodgers played championship-quality baseball in 2010.

"I think the second half, in a lot of ways, was the result of the first half and the spring," Colletti said. "I can't say I had more than a 10-day period where I thought we were truly playing as well as we could play. In ’09, we had a pretty good defense, and we executed, played well in clutch situations, found a way to win games. We really hadn’t done that very much in the first half of the season. And I think it caught up with us in the second half.

"And what I did last year wasn’t acceptable. How I prepared for last year didn’t meet the results that I have for myself."

The Dodgers will arrive to spring training later this month, in many ways, a different team than a year ago, starting with a greater emphasis on starting pitching that represents Colletti's most visceral response to his roster concerns from 2010. At the same time, Colletti said the experience the returning core gained from last year's disappointment has the potential to play a significant, positive role in 2011.

"They’re professional, and this is their livelihood," he said. "And you believe there’s enough pride and adjustment and education from this past year. A lot of guys haven’t gone through what they’ve gone through in the past year. That will put them in the right place coming in to know it’s got to be better and it’s got to be more focused.

"Because they’ve (succeeded) before, I’m confident. But then, last year was what it was. I’m cautious by nature. I take nothing for granted, at any point in my life at any stage. So I don’t take it for granted that it’s just gonna happen. I think it has to be prepared in order to happen.

Translated, Colletti believes the talent is there but the effort, focus and confidence need to return. He said the offseason preparation "is done to some point, and when you get to camp now it’s going to be up to Don [Mattingly] and his staff to have certain procedures in place and certain accountability set forth. And I obviously have to support that, and they have to buy into it."


Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Matt Kemp had homered once in 31 games prior to hitting one out in each of his final five games of 2010.
Comeback kids?
Despite leading Dodgers regulars on offense, Andre Ethier never fully seemed to recover from the pinky injury he suffered in May and fed doubts about his long-term ability to hit left-handed pitchers (.625 OPS against them in 2010, .681 for his career). James Loney went from decent before the All-Star Break (.803) to disastrous after (.616). Jonathan Broxton's second-half collapse is as well-documented as anyone's, and Matt Kemp ... well, let's just say his season could have been the inspiration for what made Linda Blair's head spin in "The Exorcist."

The question, Colletti agreed, is which of the players will hit a hurdle in their development in 2010, and which have hit a wall. And it's a question that's due for an answer. Mulligans that were handed out last year won't be found so easily or at all in 2011.

"In the past, I’ve been more patient than open-minded," Colletti said. "I think that one of the toughest characteristics you have to have in these jobs is patience because everybody expects everything to turn overnight. … It doesn’t work that way. Everybody’s human; these guys are all human. They take maturation, physical maturation, all kinds of processes.

"I won’t be able to be just completely patient with it [this year]. We’re not an old team, but we’re not a team overwhelmed with rookies, either. We have experience, and a lot of our players have been to the postseason at least twice and sometimes three times in the last five years. So it’s there, it’s really kind of going back to that point and being focused about it and passionate about it and tough-minded about it."

It might surprise people to learn that Colletti seems particularly bullish about Kemp, the target of a radio critique by Colletti in April.

"I think probably from middle of August on, things became a little bit more focused for him," Colletti said. "He and I had a conversation, probably in August, that was really a man-to-man, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. And I was trying to take some of the weight off. I think he understands it; I think he understands what transpired last year. I think from my conversations this winter, from the last month of the season and this winter, I think he understands more than he did a year ago about himself and about the game, about preparation. So I think he’s got a chance to really have a great year."

It's possible Colletti might have said the same thing about Russell Martin, except Martin is no longer around. The circumstances of the Dodgers' decision to let Martin go rather than offer him salary arbitration weren't discussed, but Martin's recent offseason comments about "distractions" that affected him led to a broader comment from Colletti about the difficulty of playing in Los Angeles.

"Sometimes, it’s commitment, prioritization and commitment," Colletti said. "I read what Russell said, but I don’t know what the true context was or what his underlying thoughts were as to why he said it. ... There are a lot of distractions in this city. There’s a lot of different things to be doing, a lot of places your mind can wander off to, but if you’re a professional baseball player, if you’re a Dodger, you’ve got to figure out life. ... And it’s not easy to do it."

Without going into many specifics, Colletti indicated that the ability to play in Los Angeles is a factor in some trades of young players he has made. He called Carlos Santana the prospect he regrets parting with "probably more than anybody" before he added that there were a couple of other guys he would have to wait and see on.

"Again, Los Angeles isn't for everybody," Colletti said. "Sometimes we make a move on a player because we know in this environment here, they're not going to be very good in it."


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Jonathan Broxton issued 25 of his 28 walks last season after June 23.
Pitching paradoxes
As for Broxton, count Colletti among those who see his second-half crumble as an issue of confidence, rather than health problems that might have been caused by his 48-pitch tar-and-feathering against the Yankees last June.

"He never complained," Colletti said. "And at the end, he wasn't thrilled with it, but I said, 'Jonathan, I need you to take a complete physical -- your arm, your shoulder, your elbow.' A week to go in the season. And he said, 'I feel great. I don't need to do it.' And I said, 'I need you to do it.' So he said, 'I'll do it,' and everything came back clean."

Colletti is aware of the volatility of relief pitchers, comparing them to great goaltenders who can go through "a month or two where they can't stop anything." But this awareness cuts both ways. It leads Colletti to give relievers who have performed in the past long leashes, and it compels him to have as many alternatives on hand as he can, as seen through the acquisitions of set-up men Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth and oblique references to No. 6 starter Vicente Padilla's potential to close games.

Again, however, Colletti believes that at rock bottom you can often find a trampoline. Look no further than Chad Billingsley, banished from the Dodgers' starting rotation by the end of 2009 before rising anew last season.

"Most of our young players did not experience a lot of failure as young players, minor leagues [or] early in the big leagues," Colletti said. "They really didn’t struggle. And when it finally hits you, and you do struggle for whatever reason and you're doing it in front of 45,000 people in Los Angeles all the time, on television every day, that's a tough time to struggle for the first time, for the really first time, and be able to come out of it."

Interestingly, Colletti's faith in failure recovery played a partial role in what many believe is the Dodgers' greatest weakness heading into this season: the lack of a bona fide left fielder.

Angst in the outfield
This winter, the Dodgers didn't bid on the two marquee outfield free agents, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, and you can safely conclude that was a reflection of their overall contract demands and the Dodgers' budget. But when it came to alternatives, Colletti was wary of blocking two Dodgers outfield prospects who could each be major league ready a year from now, Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands, especially after the experience Robinson had in Jacksonville last summer.

"Robinson last year started off slow in Double-A, and we stayed with him and he figured it out," Colletti said. "That to me was huge. Because he's gonna have to figure that out. Because everybody struggles up here."

There is the caveat that it's not as if the current Dodgers never struggled in the majors or minors before 2010 -- one could easily make the case that they did, but that their subsequent triumphs blotted out the memory. In any event, if he had found a signable veteran outfielder worthy of a multiyear deal, Colletti no doubt would have pulled the trigger. But he does feel optimistic over the long term about what he has.

"If I would have signed a left fielder for three years, who was again not one of those robust guys -- I’m not sure there was a guy out there -- then I’m really kind of blocking one of those two kids, and I’ve got faith in both of them," he said. "Hopefully, not this year. Hopefully, it’s a year from now, but I have faith in both that they’ll be able to play and contribute. And actually I told them both that, too, in the fall -- I told Trayvon way back in the summertime, 'It’s important for me to know who you are and how you play. Because you know what, Manny’s not gonna be back next year. And I’ve got to make a decision whether I’m gonna go and tie up his spot for three or four years, or be patient and mix and match for a year and wait for you.'"


Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesCasey Blake had an .895 OPS against lefties last year, .663 against righties.
In the interim, Colletti is under no illusion that he has gold in the third outfield slot, so the Dodgers will essentially play it by ear in the outfield, with Mattingly looking at matchup opportunities for Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul (if he makes the squad), and on an infrequent basis, Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll.

"Right now Matty's the center fielder," Colletti said. "Andre’s the right fielder. I want to see what Tony can do offensively. He’ll play as much as the offense allows him, I think ... using the whole field, bunting more, figuring out ways to get on base, because his on-base percentage isn’t high even when he hits .270. See if he can become more disciplined at the plate, use his speed more to get on. I don't expect power out of him. I don’t expect gap power out of him, but I would like to see him get on base a lot more, because if he does it perhaps changes the dynamics in the outfield.

"And in the meantime, I’ve got two guys that can hit, one from the left side and one from the right side -- actually two from the left side with X. Paul and Gibbons, and then Thames. ... And perhaps they’re five- or six-inning guys, and then you go defense later. But you’ve got two guys that might be able to hit 20 homers between them."

Third base offers a secondary question for the Dodgers because, while Blake is sure to start against lefties and some righties, no one seems to be beating the drum for him to play 146 games like he did last season. With the Dodgers' minor leagues fairly thin at second and third base, this time Colletti took the plunge on a multiyear stopgap in Juan Uribe.

"Our system’s produced a lot of guys," Colletti said. "But except for really [Ivan] DeJesus, we don’t really have a second baseman that’s on the verge of being here. We have a shortstop coming probably in Dee Gordon and after him [Jake] Lemmerman, and right now third base is a bit of an open spot too -- we had [Pedro] Baez in the Cal League last year. So Uribe, while the on-base percentage isn’t Moneyball-ish or whatever, the run production is still pretty good, in that he can play second, short or third, and we don’t have anybody that’s going to press him at third for a while, and really De Jesus is trying to transition to play second. I needed somebody I can run out there who’s a big league guy."

Because of what he sees as a potential benefit to have Uribe play some at the hot corner, Colletti emphasized that De Jesus has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder. Obviously, someone like Carroll could also make several starts to allow Blake to rest.

In any case, Colletti is aware of how much a juggling act the Dodgers' everyday lineup has become. Though he has in one sense traded last year's lack of a fifth starter for this year's lack of an everyday left fielder or third baseman, Colletti sees the two situations as apples and oranges.


Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matt Guerrier, 31, has allowed 11.5 baserunners per nine innings in his career.
Never enough
"You really didn’t have in my mind many choices that were going to be able to play every day," Colletti said. "We had to fix the pitching first, and we had to upgrade the bullpen if we could.

"You can’t finesse pitching. Maybe a day here or there, but you need to have it. And the list [of available pitchers], we were kind of picking near the top of the list, even though it isn’t sexy to say you signed Ted [Lilly] or Hiroki [Kuroda], it’s not necessarily 'wow,' but it’s solid. It gave us a little bit of depth. So we had to start there. The kid from Minnesota, Guerrier, is gonna be a good add for us. He’s pitched in a lot of big games; he’s always had positive results.

"It’s the most volatile group, but once [Joaquin] Benoit got three years and [$16.5 million], that’s what people expect to get ... and if you really need a guy, sometimes you have to go the extra distance to go and get him."

Add together the total commitments the Dodgers made to their free-agent signees of this past offseason, and you barely pass the total value of Adrian Beltre's deal by itself, while falling short of the Crawford or Werth contracts. And like it or not, Colletti was not going to enter another season shy on pitching or dependent on unproven rookies such as James McDonald or Scott Elbert.

"I was apprehensive all winter long last year" Colletti said of the starting pitching. "I knew we were short going in; I knew we weren’t going to be able to rally it. In the spring, J-Mac and Scotty both struggled. We may have sent them both out early, in fact, because they couldn’t throw strikes; they were all over the board. So right from the beginning, I knew we were going to be short. I didn’t know how we were gonna mix and match, and we couldn’t afford an injury certainly."

If there's an ongoing concern on everyone's minds, it's how the Frank McCourt ownership crisis is affecting spending on the team on the field. You can argue that different owners might have allowed Colletti to sign one big-ticket free agent in addition to shoring up the pitching, but Colletti doesn't contend that the divorce itself is having an impact on personnel.

He also makes the case, as McCourt did a year ago, that the Dodgers are aiming to spend more money to deepen their prospect population.

Farm aid
"We've had basically the same [major-league] payroll," Colletti said. "Though we dipped a little bit last year, we're coming back this year. It's not really how much you have, it's where you spend it. We do have to get better at international signings; we have to reinvest there. I think we've let Venezuela slip for a few years, and we've made some changes in the staffing.

"We've done a decent job in the D.R. [Dominican Republic] -- not what we did 25 years ago, but with all due respect, 25 years ago there wasn't 30 teams down there, either. So, it's not like we could just cherry-pick the players we want like we probably did at the outset of the country opening up to having players signed. But we do have to get better at that to support our player development system. It's been fruitful. Obviously, a lot of players are in the big leagues now that we drafted, but we have to keep flowing, and they have to keep getting better. I know we've hit a touchable lull right now and I think we're probably a year or two away from having another group come forward."

[+] EnlargeZach Lee
Chris Carlson/APLogan White escorts newly signed Zach Lee in his Dodger Stadium visit in August.
Colletti didn't rule out the Dodgers' top draft choice of 2010, Zach Lee -- whose signing shocked most baseball observers -- being part of the Dodgers' graduating class of 2012. Amid the height of McCourt tensions, Lee received a $5.25 million signing bonus, a record for a Dodgers' draft pick. The previous record-holder, Clayton Kershaw, reached the majors less than two calendar years after he was picked, and Lee could do the same.

"We really liked this kid," Colletti said. "We really liked his makeup, his demeanor, his abilities, athleticism, his toughness. ... Not only are the physical skills different than most kids you see, but the way his mind works is different ... probably from playing at the highest levels at a couple of sports, including going to LSU for a summer and having that experience, which as long as he didn't get hurt it didn't bother me."

Colletti's hope is that the Dodgers' minor league pitchers drafted in previous years allow Lee as much time as he needs to develop. There was an epidemic of setbacks among the farm system's arms in 2010 -- so many that if Colletti wants to see who can overcome hurdles, wish granted.

"It's concerning to me," he said. "Probably a lot of the guys that we could both probably name should be a year farther along than they are. They've all struggled with command. … Some are converted players, some weren't pitchers necessarily in high school or college. So they're still learning that.

Curing the epidemic
And to circle back to the beginning of our piece, in some ways, older players never stop learning and developing. Witness Colletti's additional assessment of the contagion that struck the Dodgers' offense in 2010:

"I think hitters sometimes without results start to get impatient, so they start to chase out of the zone," he said. "They’re trying to build more offensive numbers in a quicker period of time and so they’re not as diligent to work the count, and all that stuff starts to compound through the course of it. ... When people are starting to slump, sometimes it produces more guys that go in that direction than less. And that’s what started to happen. It started to spiral where one guy struggled and then two. And then the third guy saw the other two and then he struggled, and it continued to mount."


Alex Gallardo/APDavey Lopes will switch to a Dodgers' uniform for the first time since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series.
When you take Colletti's view of what went wrong with the Dodgers last year and what's needed to make it right, it makes sense that he sees one of the most promising offseason moves as one that even some jaded Dodgers fans embraced: the hiring of Davey Lopes as a coach.

"I've known him a long time and I've admired him," Colletti said. "You know, I was with him in Chicago when he was still a player and I've certainly watched him from the other side of the field when he managed and when he was coaching. And I think what he brings here is -- you're talking about first -- someone who was an iconic Dodger who understands Los Angeles and understands the Dodgers and was here during one of the greatest periods in our franchise's history. That's important.

"What he did in Philly with baserunning and defense and fine-tuning that position, the first-base coaching position, to make it a far more valuable position to the organization, is something we noticed. And I think he's going to have a great impact on our club. I think there are some players that could turn their game up a notch with his instruction, with his thought process. I think, while it's a coaching position, I think it's a huge addition for this franchise."

Will a new manager, new coaches, new players and new spirits be enough to right the Dodgers' ship? It's too soon to say, but if the Dodgers are to play more than 10 days of great baseball in 2011, Colletti will expect to see strong signs of it before Opening Day arrives.
I'm growing increasingly numb to the various lists ranking Dodger prospects. My interest in the prospects themselves hasn't waned, but more and more, the ordering of them seems to have been generated like letter-number combinations from a Bingo tumbler.

Here are two more lists, from Baseball America and from Fangraphs. As if to thumb their nose at my state of mind, both rank Dee Gordon and Zach Lee first and second, but for example, BA has Trayvon Robinson 10th, while Fangraphs has him third.

I think I just enjoy getting information about the players rather than worrying about what order they should be in. In that spirit, here's one excerpt: BA's Best Tools in the Dodger farm system. You can see why BA likes Gordon – errors aside, they rank him as the team's best defensive infielder.
Best Hitter for Average: Dee Gordon
Best Power Hitter: Jerry Sands
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Justin Sellers
Fastest Baserunner: Dee Gordon
Best Athlete: Dee Gordon
Best Fastball: Kenley Jansen
Best Curveball: Chris Withrow
Best Slider: Scott Elbert
Best Changeup: Allen Webster
Best Control: Zach Lee
Best Defensive Catcher: Gorman Erickson
Best Defensive Infielder: Dee Gordon
Best Infield Arm: Pedro Baez
Best Defensive Outfielder: James Baldwin
Best Outfield Arm: Blake Smith

* * *

I'm finding the transformation of Dodger Stadium into a supercross arena fascinating, if not a little frightening. I really would be curious to see it for myself. In any case, Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News gives us a look and talks to Dodger Stadium head groundskeeper Eric Hansen about his fears.
White lies, little and giant, have always been part of baseball -- even the creation of the game is rooted in myth. But I can't remember a year since I've been following the Dodgers that seems as defined by misinformation as 2010.

The tone was set last fall by Frank and Jamie McCourt as they prepared to do battle for ownership of the franchise, with the he said/she said battle positions flowering during numerous public revelations this year, leaving us with the bouquet of stinkweed at the trial that began this week. I'm not saying that someone's been trying to pull a lot of wool over someone's eyes, but lambs across the country are shivering in 90-degree heat.

It hasn't only been the McCourts. Matt Kemp is held out of the starting lineup for days at a time, and the explanations richochet like bumper cars. He's tired, he needs to get his head together, he's in a battle with a coach, he needs to go talk to Joe Torre, Joe Torre needs to talk to him.

Manny Ramirez is finally ready to play after a painfully long absence, and yet he's not playing. It's matchups against the pitcher, it's the square footage of the opposing outfield, it's Torre playing a hunch, it's to protect Ramirez for his waiver sendoff to the American League, it's Ramirez's own pigheadedness.

And then there are the media columnists who will bend and even break the truth to suit the stories they are determined to write, heedless of the facts.

This all comes on top of the game's typical lies, such as a player hiding an injury (often to the detriment of the team), that are so familiar and yet so tedious.

It has bred a cynicism so rampant in many of us that even when a Dodger executive of unimpugned integrity like Logan White said in June with complete honesty that he drafted Zach Lee with the full intention of trying to sign him, few believed him -- and most of the few who did simply believed he was lying to himself.

Baseball in general, and the Dodgers in particular, don't necessarily owe us the truth, and I understand little white lies will always be part of the game. Baseball is a business, a culture and a family, and in all three fib to protect themselves. But this year, the cumulative effect of the lying has had a punishing effect. Last week, when Ramirez missed his final four chances to start after reaching base in his final four plate appearances as a starter, I rolled my eyes so much that they bowled a 270. It would be a bit much to pull the "have you no decency" card, but surely there doesn't need to be such contempt for the truth to operate a baseball team in Los Angeles.

The grievances of Dodger fans are many, perhaps too many and perhaps sometimes too petty. But the feeling is almost unshakable that the Dodger organization has gone too far in insulting the intelligence of the fans. If our expectations are sometimes too high, that doesn't mean the Dodger players, coaches, manager, executives and ownership don't need to aim higher. In the end, winning is all that matters, but integrity goes a long way toward soothing the spirit when you're losing.

Let's put it this way: If you as an organization choose to espouse the heart and hustle and grit and gristle of players like Scott Podsednik and Jamey Carroll, then maybe you need to apply those values to your own, you know, values. Character in a baseball team is defined by more than how fast you run down the line. You're telling me character matters, yet you're not acting like it.

Larry Goren/Icon SMI
Logan White has supervised Dodger drafts since 2002.


Pretty nice 28 hours that Logan White just had.

Monday evening, White 2003 draftee Chad Billingsley finished his sixth consecutive quality start, with an ERA of 1.33 in that span.

Tuesday evening, White 2006 draftee Clayton Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in the Dodgers' 6-0 victory over Colorado and moved up to third in the National League in strikeouts.

And in between, White converted his bold first-round selection of Zach Lee into what might be the coup of the 2010 draft.

Lee's reported $5.25 million deal was more than twice the size of Kershaw's draft-year signing, in part because of the leverage that college football provided Lee, but it also reflects the belief that Lee could make the kind of remarkable impact for the Dodgers that Kershaw already has.

We might not get to see all three of these pitchers in the same Dodger rotation -- Billingsley becomes eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, while it might be a rush to get the teenage Lee to the bigs by then -- but there is that tantalizing possibility. And even if it doesn't happen, you can be pretty sure the past two nights haven't gone unnoticed inside baseball.

Put another way, even if there comes a weekend series in the September 2012 stretch run with Kershaw, Billingsley and Lee on the mound for the Dodgers, will White be around to see it?

White has long been an attractive candidate for other front offices in baseball, certainly from a scouting viewpoint but also in terms of general manager openings. Getting Lee to the Dodgers -- convincing both parties to get on board -- when almost no one thought he could, adds a new layer of appeal.

The signing arguably turned around a year in which, aside from Kershaw and Billingsley, things went a little south for White's other prodigies. There was Blake DeWitt's and James Loney's lack of home-run power, Russell Martin's ongoing fade and Matt Kemp's backward steps. There was James McDonald once more not seizing the day (though he seems to be thriving in Pittsburgh), and Scott Elbert's disappearing act. And there was a mixed bag of results on the development front in the low minors -- some remarkable advances like that of Jerry Sands, some retreats by others.

But Kershaw, Billingsley and Lee serve as a reminder that betting on White is about as safe a gamble as you can make in -- this can't be over-emphasized -- an inherently risky field. I have no idea what specific interest other teams will show in White, but as the Dodgers make their lengthy to-do list for the 2010-11 offseason, one item that needs to be on it is "Keep Logan White happy." Unless you subscribe to the philosophy of, "If you love someone, set him free."
In case you missed it, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has much more from Dodger assistant general manager for amateur scouting Logan White about newly signed draft choice Zach Lee:
White said Lee's contract won't allow him to play football on the side.

"He is absolutely 100 percent dedicated to baseball,'' White said.

However, in the unlikely event Lee changes his mind down the road and goes back to football, White said there are provisions in the contract that will limit the Dodgers' financial losses, although he wouldn't go into detail as to what those provisions are.

As a pitcher, White said Lee is a better all-around athlete than either Kershaw or Chad Billingsley, two recent first-round picks (2006 and 2004, respectively) who are now mainstays in the Dodgers' starting rotation.

"He has an absolutely picture-perfect delivery and excellent arm action,'' White said. "He is as pure as any pitcher I have ever seen. He has power stuff like Kershaw and Billingsley, but when those guys were younger, they would almost fight through a wall sometimes and try to overpower somebody, but they have grown and learned how to pitch more than just throw and be more effective with their pitch counts.

"I think Lee at the same age has a better feel for how to pitch than Chad or Clayton, and I don't mean that to disparage them at all.''

White said Lee's fastball touches 95 mph, but that he normally pitches in the 89-90 range, has a good breaking ball and a great changeup. ...
First the Dodgers Joc the world, and now they shock the world.

Confounding skeptics from coast to baseball coast, the Dodgers made good on their word and successfully delivered an offer to first-round draft choice Zach Lee reportedly at $5.25 million over five years, luring him from Louisiana State, where he had been about to embark on a quarterbacking career. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Back in October, I suggested that the divorce might bring about "a time when you buy the kids a nice pony to take their mind off the ugliness." It took a while, but Lee is that pony, at least for the hardcore Dodger fan. It's a remarkable turn of events and expectations.
Tags:

Draft

With little for me to talk about regarding today's 13-1 defenestration of the Dodgers – Tony Jackson has everything you could possibly want to know, including the tidbit that the Dodgers have gone three straight games without a run-scoring hit – I can finally turn my attention to Monday's 9 p.m. deadline to sign 2010 draft choices, including No. 1 pick Zach Lee.

Bullet points:
  • The Dodgers aren't the only team going down to the wire on their first-round draftee, as the chart accompanying Ken Gurnick's MLB.com article indicates.
  • Kevin Baxter of the Times details how little the Dodgers have been spending on amateur talent lately.
  • Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports bucks the conventional wisdom and suggests that the Dodgers will make Lee a legitimate bid, with lots of explanation why. Henson has a quote from Lee saying, "I know I’m going to have to make a decision if they make an offer."

No single draft pick is a referendum on the Dodgers' amateur talent strategy. The cupboard isn't barren. But let's just say that a team that spends its past year not signing its first-round pick, not offering salary arbitration to free agents and thereby forfeiting more first-round picks, not investing in international signings and not stopping from trading away handfuls of prospects each year is checking off a lot of boxes on the negative side of the ledger.

Let's see what the news is at 9 p.m. Monday.
The controversy over the Dodgers' top draft choice continued Tuesday.

Dodger assistant general manager Logan White insists that the Dodgers think they can sign Zach Lee, writes Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, despite speculation that the Dodgers purposely chose a player whose salary demands would be unreachable, in order to save money.

Louisiana State football coach Les Miles said Tuesday that he met with Lee and his parents and that Lee intends to go to college to play football and baseball. White addressed that statement directly.
"He might go to school,'' White said. "That is always a possibility. We certainly knew that was a possibility when we drafted him.''

Even so, White adamantly denied that the Dodgers would ever draft a player knowing they couldn't sign him.

"I can understand why people might think that,'' he said. "But that is one of those things where people create what they want to create, and it is just so far from the truth. I certainly want to sign Zach Lee, as much as any player I have ever drafted.''

White also dismissed a suggestion that he was under orders from McCourt to tank this year's first-round pick.

A similar (though perhaps less intense) drama brewed around the Dodgers' sixth-round pick, pitcher Kevin Gausman, who is also an LSU recruit. Writes Evan Drellich of MLB.com:
Gausman told The Denver Post he too was leaning toward going to college.

"Because of the amount of money that I want, they are going to follow me and see if I'm actually worth that," Gausman told The Post.

"Being drafted in the sixth round, I think I have a chance to next year come out and really be a big influence at LSU and maybe even be their No. 1 guy on the mound," Gausman said. "As of right now, I'm set on [LSU]."

White called Gausman's statement "a normal part of the process."

"He would've been a potential late first-round sandwich pick, but he's got significant signing demands as well," White said. "And he may not sign. We'll see what happens."

If Lee doesn't sign with the Dodgers, the team will get a compensatory pick in the 2011 draft. Some believe this might be a smart move, because that draft is expected to be deeper in talent – so that even if the Dodgers acknowledge (to themselves, if no one else) that Lee isn't coming, it doesn't mean that they are avoiding paying amateur talent. We'll see.

On a brighter note, Drellich writes that second-round pick Ralston Cash said he is interested in signing with the Dodgers despite having a scholarship to Georgia. Cash flew out last weekend for a last-minute workout with the Dodgers, and he and White bonded.

* * *

  • Vicente Padilla went 4 2/3 innings with one run allowed in a rehab start for Inland Empire on Tuesday. Padilla gave up three hits, walked one and struck out four.
  • Kyle Russell singled and tripled in his AA debut for Chattanooga on Tuesday, while Chris Withrow threw seven innings without allowing an earned run, striking out six.
  • Elisaul Pimentel allowed one run over six innings in Great Lakes' victory. Brian Cavazos-Galvez had three hits.

* * *

Stat of the Day has a fun list of pitchers who have thrown at least five consecutive starts of eight innings or more, without allowing more than one run – fun because the list of course includes the Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale scoreless inning streaks, as well as Fernando Valenzuela's beginning to the 1981 season. You'll also find Don Sutton and Don Newcombe there.
... Zach Lee, 6-foot-4, 195-pound right handed high school pitcher from McKinney, Texas.

He's a high-school quarterback committed to Louisiana State, so there are immediate signability issues. This draft choice sets up a new referendum on the McCourt ownership.

Here's a scouting report with video from MLB.com. An excerpt:
Summary: With above-average to plus stuff across the board -- fastball, slider, changeup -- good command and tremendous athleticsm, Lee should be one of the high school arms being mentioned up close to the top of the Draft, or at least on a short list of top high school arms. If he's not, it's largely because of one thing: signability. As a quarterback recruit, he's committed to play two sports at LSU next year, and many think he's unsignable as a result. That said, there's bound to be a team with deep pockets that will take a shot at luring him away from the gridiron and life as a collegiate athlete.

Here's what Marc Hulet of Fangraphs has to say:
A top quarterback prospect from Texas, it will clearly take a lot ($$$) to sway Lee away from his commitment to Louisiana State University. A team drafting Lee in the first round will have to have a pretty good feel on his signability. Lee has a three pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball, slider, and change-up. His arm slot tends to wander at times. Thanks to his focus on the football field, the right-hander is still raw but he does display solid control for his age.

From ESPN.com:
Lee is a star quarterback who has committed to LSU to play both football and baseball, but if he put word out tomorrow that he was willing to sign and focus exclusively on the world's greatest sport, he'd go off the board in the top 50 picks next month.

Lee will show three pitches, with the changeup already flashing plus, and his fastball velocity is likely to increase as he fills out and if he dedicates himself to baseball.

He has a really bright future if and when he chooses baseball, but if he's not interested in a pro career now, doesn't that say something about the kid's commitment to football and/or school? Buying him out of LSU isn't the solution, and I think he'll be a top-20 guy in 2013.

From Baseball America:
Lee's status as one of the best quarterback recruits in the nation and a top student will make him one of the most difficult signing decisions in this draft. The perception among area scouts is that Lee might require as much as $3 million—and even that might not be enough to steer him away from playing two sports at Louisiana State. He passed for 2,565 yards and 31 touchdowns last fall, and his arm is just as potent on the mound. He already has a 90-93 mph fastball with room for more projection in his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame. He also throws a sharp slider and a changeup that needs work but shows promise. Unlike many two-sport stars, he has a lot of polish. Lee has a clean delivery that he repeats, enabling him to throw strikes with ease.

Here's some video of Lee playing football at YouTube. And here he is on the mound last summer at the Area Code Games.

Jim Callis of Baseball America called the Dodgers "the last team" he expected to go after Lee.

Of course, there's always the possibility that football is leverage, rather than the top priority for Lee. And it's not as if the Dodgers have no draft budget – they could always have made a conservative pick that would sign relatively inexpensively. But hardcore fans will be watching carefully to see if the Dodgers punted this pick, or if they will complete the Hail Mary. Certainly, there is going to be tons of skepticism.

The draft continues Tuesday.

Update: From Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
"People can think what they want, he was the best talent available and I want to sign him, absolutely," said Logan White, assistant general manager of scouting. "I didn't take Zach to not sign him. You'll see as the summer goes along we'll make every effort to sign him, and I want to sign him. I know it won't be easy, but hopefully we'll get it done." ...

"If he focuses on baseball, I think he can move quickly, like Kershaw and Billingsley," said White. "A lot will be made of the two sports, but as a pitcher, he has a real good arm and delivery, a plus breaking ball, he has a feel for a changeup, and when I saw him he was 90-92 [mph] with the fastball and up to 95. The ball comes out of his hand easily.

"The guy's a competitor, he's smart. Put it all together and we really couldn't pass him up. He's worth the risk of not signing. I like him that much."

Unlike many recent Dodgers top picks, the club did not hold a special workout for Lee. According to White, Lee was surprised to get the call.

"He certainly was surprised," White said. "They didn't have a feel for what we were going to do. It's part of the gamesmanship of the Draft."

Update 2: From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
"These are unusual circumstances,'' White said. "I can only say that I am optimistic we will sign him. ... [But] I can't sit here and tell you that we're going to sign him. It will really be Zach's decision and his family's decision. But we feel confident that once he and his family are able to get a good look at what this organization is all about, we'll have a good chance to get him.''

White said Lee's fastball has been clocked anywhere between 89-95 mph and routinely hits 93 and that he already has a plus changeup and curveball to go with it.

"One thing I will tell you is that he is quite an athlete,'' White said. "One thing we liked was his athleticism, his size and his strength. He is tall and has a very good delivery, just easy, easy arm action. He is a strike thrower, and he knows how to change speeds. He has a great feel for pitching. He doesn't just try to blow it by everybody, even though he has that ability. It's a chess game for him because he is very competitive.''

White said Lee plans to follow through with his plans to participate in LSU's summer football workouts, so an agreement with the Dodgers probably isn't imminent. White wouldn't rule out an agreement that would allow Lee to play football at LSU while playing baseball professionally in the Dodgers' system, but it also didn't sound like the kind of agreement White is eager to enter into.

"I wouldn't rule anything out, but I just feel like if we can get him into our organization, he is going to be [in the majors] pretty fast,'' White said.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239