Is Zach Lee Moving On Up Quickly To AA?

A little less than four years after is MLB debut, Clayton Kershaw pitches in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Two years ago, Zach Lee was finishing high school and many thought he would be headed to LSU to play football. There was that little thing about being the first round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers but media pundits wondered aloud if this was just a stunt since Lee's price tag was supposed to be too high for the financially strapped team. But then on last day he could sign, he did.

While that made for a dramatic moment, by signing in the middle of August, Lee would not be able to get in any meaningful time in the minors that year, so his first professional season was in 2011 and he started in the Midwest League and stayed there for the whole season. When 2012 began, he took the next step in Advanced A-Ball, playing in the California League. As the All-Star break approached, he seemed to have settled in to the offensively-minded Cal League and with 5 starters already in AA (not counting Nate Eovaldi who was promoted to LA in May), it didn't look like Zach was leaving anytime soon.

But yesterday it was reported that Lee would be going East, kind of Southeast to Tennessee and pitch for the Lookouts of Chattanooga. That is great news for Lee and it got me wondering, where he fits with the other Dodger minor league pitchers of recent years, is Lee on a similar track or is it faster?

Below is a table showing some of the more well-known pitchers that Logan White and his team have drafted and signed (one was signed as a free agent) and then developed in the Dodger system. This list doesn't include every pitcher drafted by White who has gone on to pitch in the majors but it is a good reflection of the system since 2002.

Player Draft Age Draft Year AA Age AA Year MLB Debut
Jonathan Broxton 17 2002 20 2005 2005
James McDonald 17 2002 22 2007 2008
Chad Billingsley 18 2003 19 2004 2006
Scott Elbert 18 2004 20 2006 2008
Clayton Kershaw 18 2006 19 2007 2008
Chris Withrow 18 2007 20 2009
Ethan Martin 18 2008 22 2011
Josh Lindblom 20 2008 21 2008 2011
Nate Eovaldi 18 2008 21 2011 2011
Allen Webster 18 2008 21 2011
Matt Magill 18 2008 21 2011
Aaron Miller 21 2009 22 2010
Zach Lee 18 2010 20 2012
Chris Reed 21 2011 22 2012
Rubby De La Rosa 18 2007 21 2010 2011

A couple of notes about the list, outside of McDonald, the pitchers drafted from 2002-2006 all pitched a number of games in Rookie League ball the year that they signed. McDonald was a draft and follow so he did not sign until 2003, he did pitch Rookie Ball that year. Chris Withrow pitched 9 innings in the Gulf Coast League in 2007, got hurt prior to the 2008 season, ended up pitching 4 innings that year. So with only 13 professional innings pitched, to make the jump to AA in 2009 was quite something though now after 3 more years there, his 326 IP there is much more than any other pitcher on this list.

I did add Rubby De La Rosa on the list basically so no one would ask about his placement on the chart, but De La Rosa didn't pitch full season minor league ball until 2010 when he went from the Midwest League to AA Chattanooga in one year. There is no question that once he established himself he moved quickly but it still took 3 years after signing to make it to AA.

Billingsley and Kershaw both pitched in AA at the end of their first full season in Minor League ball, technically so did Withrow but his rise did take more than a year plus a few months after being drafted.

Zach Lee is the youngest Dodger minor-leaguer to make it to AA since Withrow but I see this move as an agressive more similar to Billingsley and Kershaw. However, there are 5 starters already there in AA so it will be interesting to see what happens, perhaps someone will move on or go to the bullpen.

I think Lee is not destined for a Big League call-up until September 2013 but once you get to AA, anything can happen.

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