Dodgers pitching prospect Zach Lee not ruling out return to football

Zach Lee in his major-league debut against the Mets at Citi Field on July 25, 2015.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

If Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect Zach Lee’s professional baseball career doesn’t pan out how he hopes it will, there’s a good chance he would trade the diamond for the gridiron.

A two-sport star athlete at McKinney High School in north Texas, Lee had a scholarship offer to play quarterback at LSU, and planned to attend the SEC powerhouse and continue playing baseball there as well.

The right-hander was still leaning towards attending college even after the Dodgers selected him with their 28th overall pick in the first round of the 2010 draft.

However, when Los Angeles chose to offer him an astonishing $5.25-million signing bonus, Lee simply couldn’t refuse the exorbitant offer.

In five years in the minors, Lee has posted a 45-41 record with a 3.87 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 507 strikeouts versus 173 walks in 646 2/3 innings. He went 13-6 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 2015.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound righty made his major-league debut last season, but it wasn’t pretty.

He was bopped around for 11 hits and seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in a call-up start against the New York Mets in last-minute replacement of Zack Greinke, who left the team for the birth of his child.

Despite the Dodgers filling out their rotation this offseason by re-signing lefty Brett Anderson and adding free agents Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda, Lee is eager to prove himself in spring training and demonstrate he’s worthy of being placed on the major-league mound.

"My job is to try to make a name for myself and get a rotation spot," Lee told MLB.com. "I’ll use it as an opportunity to show what I can do on the big league level."

In the event that the 24-year-old former star quarterback does not get his chance to be a major-league pitcher in the near future, there is a chance he could drop his professional baseball career and pursue a collegiate football career.

"I wouldn’t say it’s completely left the station," Lee told MLB.com of the prospect of him going to college to play football. "It’s a decision I’d have to make pretty soon. But I’ve got an opportunity to prove myself in the big leagues."

Using a different metaphor, Lee conveyed similar thoughts just prior to making his major-league debut in July of last year.

"Where I’m at right now and how close I am, there’s no real point in thinking about that," he told Nola.com. "Now, if something were to come up in the next couple of years and I started struggling real bad and didn’t feel like I had an opportunity to get to the big-league level, some more thought would start creeping in.

"The door is sort of cracked open, but it’s not a situation where I’m eagerly looking to find it and run through that door."

If he were to pursue a college football career, Lee says LSU would still be his preferred landing spot, as he’s kept in touch with head coach Les Miles over the years.

"Coach Miles is a great guy; I loved everything about him and have great respect for him," Lee told Nola.com. "That’s definitely an option if that were to ever become a door that I would choose. I would seriously consider coming back to LSU."

Nonetheless, his focus remains on making it as a major-league pitcher.

"I’m not ready to give up on something I’ve been working so hard for," he said. "I’m close to achieving something that a lot of kids dream about."

As for the blown opportunity he had to better his chances of achieving that dream, Lee acknowledged "that the communication leading to his start in New York wasn’t ideal, nor were the few unlucky bounces in the blowout loss," per MLB.com.

He also threw a bullpen session the day prior to his start because he was unsure when he would pitch next.

Despite the detracting factors that comprised his debut, Lee remains focused on what he can do on the mound.

"I’ve learned that there’s a lot you can’t control," he said. "So for me, it’s just about pitching and doing what I can control."