This past week, the United States celebrated National Left Handers’ Day. But for Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp reliever Dylan Lee, forcing his competition to respect his southpaw arm was so two months ago.
For a month and a quarter, if the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp had to have a clean inning or two, all they had to do was call upon number 37 who, from June 22 until July 26, turned in 15 straight scoreless innings, 10 of which came in the month of July. Over that span, he allowed just five hits and recorded a 19/0 K/BB. Lee finished the seventh month of the year running that audacious scoreless stretch to 17 IP by tossing two near-spotless in his first game at the AAA level.
For taking literally no time to become a purely dominant arm at the AA level and earn the call to the highest level of the minors where his success has continued, Lee, who began the year in A+ Jupiter only to find himself a stone’s throw away from his MLB debut in four months’ time, earns our Prospect Of The Month honors for the month of July.
Lee, who just celebrated his 24th birthday on August 1, attended high school at Dinuba High located between Fresno and Visalia in California’s southeastern valley. Lee was a letterman in all three of his varsity seasons by way of an 18-8 record and 1.39 ERA, a .164 BAA and a 230/85 K/BB in 180.2 IP. This included a 69.2 IP, 9-3, 0.40 ERA, .117 BAA, 112/22 K/BB IP in his senior season in 2012 at the end of which Lee was named Dinuba’s Player Of The Year by MaxPreps.
Following high school, Lee attended junior college at the College of the Sequoias in nearby Visalia. As a 19-year-old sophomore in 2015, he had one of the best seasons in school history and earned the titles and accolades to match. By winning a school record 13 games (all of which came consecutively before he lost his first and only game) by way of a 2.34 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 3.00 K/BB in 103.2 IP, Lee was named to the All-California State Team and labeled the Central Valley Conference’s Pitcher Of The year.
After his superb sophomore season, Lee was recruited to Division I ball at powerhouse Fresno State. While his first season was very much like his first year in JuCo — an adjustment process — Lee rebounded well in his senior year. Focusing solely on relief work, Lee’s ERA shrunk over two full points (5.31 in 2015 to 3.45 in 2016), his WHIP came down almost half a baserunner (1.54 to 1.19) and his K/BB rose from 1.67 to 2.93. According to Lee, owner of a bulldog mentality, his transition to pitching exclusively out of the pen and in high leverage situations was met with a shot in the arm and led to a rise in his overall compete level.
“Coming out of the pen at Fresno State was different for me, but I liked the adrenaline and being called in for late relief during close games,” Lee said.
Eventually, the comfort in knowing when and in what type of situation his number was going to be called upon allowed Lee to solidify his game plan and made the former swing man a much more effective pitcher. Lee contributes that sense of consistency, being able to maintain the same ideology from outing to outing and time spent analyzing it to his great July run and believes it will further assist him as he fills out and moves closer to his big league debut.
“Mindset is different from starting and in relief. The situations you are in during a game will determine the pitches and locations you should use. I’ve learned your mindset should be the same throughout your outing,” Lee said. “I will continue to work on my mechanics and recognizing what the hitter is trying to do in his at bat so I can continue being effective.
The work Lee refers to has lay within his delivery. Still a very deliberate and seemingly effortless tosser at the beginning of the year, Lee has focused on putting more into his delivery without discounting his control. Formerly a guy who would rarely touch above 91, he has between 93-96 and topped out as high as 97 this season. This has created a more advantageous velo mix to his bread-and-butter FB/CH combo and an even further velo distance from his developing curveball.
According to Dylan, the rise in fastball velo can be attributed his ability to remain upright, creating a better arc to his release and creating a better downward plane to his stride towards the plate.
“I’m definitely not the biggest pitcher in the organization, but I worked on staying tall and staying over my back leg for as long as possible at Fresno State,” Lee said. “I have worked on it during my throwing program, flat grounds, and pens to be consistent during the game.”
Most of all though, this current and very spicy brand of Dylan Lee heat has been made possible by each of coaching, the organization and Lee himself removing any sort of leash. A guy who looked like he was tossing BP at times while still hitting 89-92, this new and unlimited version of Lee is a much better suitor for his bulldog mentality and huge compete level.
“It felt like I was playing catch out there,” Lee said. “I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t letting it go.”
This Dylan Lee profile is coming along well 😍 pic.twitter.com/cKDvBjB8Ow
— Ely Sussman (@RealEly) August 1, 2018
As much as incorporating his physicality in to his approach and plan of attack on the mound has allowed him to flourish of late, Dylan attributes the bulk of his accomplishments to a gargantuan intangible factor that has stuck with him throughout his pro career: confidence.
“My faith has been the biggest thing for me. Staying in the moment and appreciating everything that has put me in this situation, Lee said. “It doesn’t matter what level I am at or who is in the box; the rubber and the plate is going to be the same distance apart and that’s how I have and will continue to keep my composure.”
On top of his improved heater, Lee still hold on to the pitch that was his calling card as a draftee: his 83-85 mph changeup. Thrown with the exact same arm speed as his fastball, Lee masks the pitch well and has a good feel for the release. The pitch both sinks and fades away late from opposite side hitters, creating tons of weak ground ball outs (see his 0.82 GO/AO rate and sub-.140 BAA vs RHB in A+ and AA this year).
Lee‘s aforementioned developmental offering is a slow 76-78 MPH curve. Nothing more than a below average mix-in prior this year, Lee has focused on improving the grip and release points on it in his warmups and has used it much more frequently during in-game action. Accordingly, Lee has put much better spin rates on the ball and a higher 12-6 arc, bringing the pitch out of the dirt and into the lower half of the zone. Formerly a pitch he’d throw maybe two times over the course of an inning, the curve has become a major part of Lee’s repertoire and a pitch he can use in any situation.
“I’m throwing it the most I ever have and I’m throwing it to LHH and RHH and both early and late in the count,” Lee said. “But most importantly I’m throwing it with conviction.”
A guy who has jumped multiple levels from A+ all the way to the highest level of the minors, managing to adjust to each by maintaining his supreme level of poise and also building up his arm, Lee, a floor pitch-count limiting middle reliever and ceiling late-innings setup man/closer, should get a look in spring training next season. The lefty who is having fun every time he toes the rubber should at the very least be at the very top of the list of bullpen call-ups next season. When his moment comes, Lee, who has been sold short since graduating high school, will allow it to serve as a resounding “I told you so”. And undoubtedly, that will be fun, too.
“Mr. Irrelevant. That’s always been me,” Lee said. “But being underestimated pushes me. It’s always fun beating the big name guys.”
Adjust your radars, baseball world. Lights out lefty appearing on heading 2019.