Lee set to take charge: Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher strives for next level

Lee set to take charge: Chattanooga Lookouts pitcher strives for next level

April 4th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The Los Angeles Dodgers last year traded away pitchers Nate Eovaldi, Rubby De La Rosa, Ethan Martin and Allen Webster, each of whom played at one point for the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Eovaldi is in the major leagues and the others are in Triple-A, and Zach Lee made sure he took notes before they all departed.

"Webster had a tremendous changeup, and I saw how he gripped it," Lee said. "Eovaldi was a power arm, so it was more about learning about the fastball from him. There are bits and pieces that you try and pick up from everyone, but ultimately you've got to make everything your own."

The 21-year-old Lee is the youngest member of Chattanooga's starting rotation entering the 2013 season, but he is also the most experienced at AT&T Field. He was promoted to Double-A last summer and made 13 starts, going 4-3 with a 4.25 earned run average.

Rated by Baseball America as the No. 5 prospect in the Dodgers organization, Lee will start tonight's opener against visiting Huntsville, weather permitting.

"The idea last year was to get him up here and get him comfortable at Double-A, and now he's raring to go," Lookouts manager Jody Reed said. "He's taken on a leadership role and is doing all the right things. We'll see what happens, but we're expecting him to be that No. 1 guy you're looking for. Hopefully he's not here long."

Lee will be joined in the Lookouts rotation by Chris Reed and Onelki Garcia, the No. 6 and No. 7 organizational prospects, along with Rob Rasmussen and Andres Santiago. Reed also was promoted to Chattanooga last summer and went 0-4 with a 4.84 ERA in 12 games, 11 of which were starts.

Garcia pitched just five innings last year after signing with the Dodgers but tallied 11 strikeouts, including seven during a three-inning appearance with the Lookouts in the Southern League playoffs.

"Onelki Garcia is a super talent, and I think he came in not expecting to have the talent he showed," Lookouts pitching coach Hector Berrios said. "He throws in the mid 90s and actually changes speeds a lot with his fastball, which is something you don't see a lot. His off-speed is his curveball, and we're trying to incorporate his changeup to give him more balance.

"I think you'll see pretty good arms here again. They were exciting in spring training, and we played a lot of low-scoring games with very few hard contacts. I think we have a bunch of talent here."

Berrios added that Eric Eadington and Yimi Garcia would share the role of closer.

Lee's Double-A numbers from last season go from decent to dynamic when his inaugural outings are taken into account. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander from McKinney, Texas, had an 0-2 record and a 9.45 ERA through his first five starts, and opponents were hitting a healthy .360.

His one playoff start for the Lookouts was a struggle, as he allowed eight hits and four runs in a loss to Jackson.

"Getting the experience up here last year was big, and it did a lot for my confidence as far as giving me a boost going into the offseason," Lee said. "Hopefully this year will be a big year for me as far as improving and my development and my baseball skills in general. I've really improved a lot on my off-speed pitches."

Said Reed: "If you want to see some quality pitching and some future Los Angeles Dodgers, come on out to the ballpark."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.