The two-sport star from McKinney (Texas) High School, who has been in football practice with Louisiana State University as an incoming freshman quarterback, was taken by the Dodgers as the 28th overall pick in the first round. He dropped to them because of signability issues, having let it be known he was seeking a huge signing bonus.
In an interview after the signing was announced, general manager Ned Colletti and assistant general manager Logan White credited club owner Frank McCourt for supporting the drafting and signing of Lee.
"Frank was unfairly criticized at the time of the selection, but he had the courage to allow us to do it," said White. "He went into this knowing he would take a beating."
The previous record signing for a Dodgers Draft pick was $2.3 million for Clayton Kershaw in 2006. So the financial commitment indicates the Dodgers expect Lee to become another Kershaw, if not better.
Lee turns 19 next month.
"He has big shoes to fill to get to where [Chad] Billingsley and Kershaw are, but I don't see why with normal progress he can't be on a similar path to the big leagues and get there by 22, 21 years old," said White.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Lee, a right-handed starter, was hardly considered a perfect fit for a franchise that supposedly has its eye on finances. Skeptics suggested the Dodgers intentionally drafted an unsignable player to save money. Yet, club officials had contended since Draft Day that a serious effort would be made to sign him.
|1||Bryce Harper (WAS)||8/16||$6.25M|
|2||Jameson Taillon (PIT)||8/16||$6.50M|
|3||Manny Machado (BAL)||8/16||$5.25M|
|4||Christian Colon (KC)||6/25||$2.75M|
|5||Drew Pomeranz (CLE)||8/16||$2.65M|
|6||Barret Loux (ARI)||DNS|
|7||Matt Harvey (NYM)||8/16||$2.52M|
|8||Delino DeShields (HOU)||8/5||$2.15M|
|9||Karsten Whitson (SD)||DNS|
|10||Michael Choice (OAK)||7/30||$2.00M|
|11||Deck McGuire (TOR)||8/16||$2.00M|
|12||Yasmani Grandal (CIN)||8/16||$2.99M|
|13||Chris Sale (CWS)||6/22||$1.65M|
|14||Dylan Covey (MIL)||DNS|
|15||Jake Skole (TEX)||6/9||$1.55M|
|16||Hayden Simpson (CHC)||6/19||$1.06M|
|17||Josh Sale (TB)||8/16||$1.62M|
|18||Kaleb Cowart (LAA)||8/16||$2.30M|
|19||Mike Foltynewicz (HOU)||6/18||$1.30M|
|20||Kolbrin Vitek (BOS)||6/14||$1.35M|
|21||Alex Wimmers (MIN)||8/6||$1.33M|
|22||Kellin Deglan (TEX)||6/9||$1.00M|
|23||Christain Yelich (FLA)||8/16||$1.7M|
|24||Gary Brown (SF)||8/16||$1.45M|
|25||Zack Cox (STL)||8/16|
|26||Kyle Parker (COL)||8/16||$1.4M|
|27||Jesse Biddle (PHI)||6/10||$1.16M|
|28||Zach Lee (LAD)||8/16||$5.25M|
|29||Cam Bedrosian (LAA)||7/14||$1.16M|
|30||Chevez Clark (LAA)||7/8||$1.08M|
|31||Justin O'Conner (TB)||6/20||$1.02M|
|32||Cito Culver (NYY)||6/18||$954K|
"It tells you when we have the right player, we'll do what we have to do to get the right player signed," said Colletti.
White said that Lee is "absolutely 100 percent dedicated to baseball," and indicated the club is not at risk of losing the bonus money should Lee leave baseball for football.
Since taking over the Draft in 2002, White's first pick has been a pitcher eight of nine times, and a high school pitcher now six times. Two of those top high school picks -- Billingsley and Kershaw -- are in the Dodgers' rotation.
"At the risk of making them [Billingsley and Kershaw] mad at me, Lee's a better athlete than both," said White. "He has a picture-perfect delivery and arm action, like John Smoltz. A power pitcher with stuff like Kershaw and Billingsley. But they fight through the wall and try to overpower and are learning how to pitch.
"Zach Lee, at the same age, has better feel for pitching than Chad or Clayton. He can run it up to 95 [mph], but similar to [Atlanta's] Jair Jurrjens against us the other night, he'll be 89, 90 then 96 out of nowhere. He has a good feel for throwing. Things come easy to him, he's a scratch golfer, a champion wrestler."
Although Lee said last week that there hadn't been any negotiations, the club had given indications it was prepared to make the Texan an offer he would find tough to pass up. The slot salary recommended by MLB for the pick was $1.134 million.
A virtual news blackout over the weekend was an indication that negotiations not only had begun, but were serious enough for Lee to keep the dialogue going.
White said the deal "came down to the wire," and he believed the key to land Lee, aside from the money, was the Dodgers organization's tradition of developing pitchers.
The deadline to sign all Draft picks was midnight Monday. Had the Dodgers not signed Lee, they would have received the 29th overall pick in next year's Draft as compensation. The last time the Dodgers didn't sign their top pick was 2005, when they drafted but did not sign supplemental pick Luke Hochevar, who became the first overall pick by Kansas City the following year.
White said earlier that Lee's competitive nature reminds him of Nolan Ryan, while Lee's athleticism and feel for pitching reminds him of a young Roy Halladay.
The Dodgers have signed 15 of their top 17 picks, but did not sign sixth-rounder Kevin Gausman, another high school pitcher also committed to LSU.
The Dodgers have signed a total of 30 of their 50 picks. Last year, the Dodgers signed their top 10, 18 of the first 19 and 30 of 51.
Key Dodgers signings Monday before Lee were 11th-round pick, outfielder Joc Pederson (committed to the University of Southern California), for $600,000 and their 26th-round selection, outfielder Scott Schebler (committed to Wichita State), for $300,000.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.