LOS ANGELES -- Zach Lee, a two-sport star and once the Dodgers' top prospect, is still pitching but hasn't completely ruled out returning to football.
Except for a one-start cameo last summer against the Mets, Lee has become the forgotten man in a rebuilt farm system. He's slipped to No. 19 overall in MLB.com's list of Dodgers prospects, behind eight other pitchers.
He was 18 when the Dodgers, with ownership mired in the ugliest of divorces, suddenly broke from penny-pinching ways and signed Lee to a stunning $5.25 million bonus. He had just reported to summer football practice at LSU, having thrown 61 touchdowns in two high-school seasons to be one of the most heavily recruited quarterbacks in the country.
He took the money and left LSU for Rookie ball. Last year was his fifth as a professional pitcher and second at Triple-A, where he overcame a month off for a circulation issue in his fingers to go 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 19 starts. He made the one emergency start against the Mets at Citi Field when Zack Greinke left for the birth of his son, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings.
But at the time, it wasn't revealed that Lee had thrown a bullpen session the day before the start because of the uncertainty over when and where he would pitch next. Maybe that's why he struggled through a four-run first inning.
After that start, Lee was returned to the Minor Leagues and stayed there without a September callup. The irony is that management named him organization Pitcher of the Year for the second time and brought him to Los Angeles to accept the award after he ranked among the Pacific Coast League leaders in wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Lee, 24, still keeps a football in his baseball equipment bag -- throwing it as part of his between-starts routine -- and at the recent Dodger Stadium FanFest, here's what he said when asked if the football train had left the station in terms of a career option:
"I wouldn't say it's completely left the station. It's a decision I'd have to make pretty soon. But I've got an opportunity to prove myself in the big leagues."
So Lee reports to Spring Training next week with all of those other pitchers who have passed him on the depth chart.
"My job is to try to make a name for myself and get a rotation spot," he said. "I'll use it as an opportunity to show what I can do on the big league level."
Lee deflected questions about past rumors of trades that might have included him, or whether he has asked for one. He acknowledged that the communication leading to his start in New York wasn't ideal, nor were the few unlucky bounces in the blowout loss.
"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."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.