Danks & Lee Both Show Veteran Savvy

Kiley brings us reports on the two top pitchers from his two days of watching the AA clubs of the Dodgers and White Sox. Inside are reports on White Sox rehabbing LHP John Danks and Dodgers top prospect RHP Zach Lee.

White Sox LHP John Danks was on a rehab start with no pitch count designed to help get him stretched out following shoulder surgery. He sat 87-90 in the first inning, hitting 91 mph, then settled in at 86-88, hitting 89 mph in the later stages in his seven inning start. He also threw a cutter with above average life that was 84-87 mph and a better pitch than his four-seamer. Danks' bread and butter pitch for years has been the changeup and he was still obviously regaining feel for the pitch but the 80-83 mph pitch was at least average almost every time, flashing plus a few times with great deception and late sink. He also mixed in a slurve at 76-77 mph with three-quarter tilt with length and occasional bite that was an average pitch.

Danks has a simple, low-effort delivery and high slot of a command-focused pitcher. He gets his arm into a high cocked position early to reduce strain on his shoulder and improve command. Danks is still regaining feel for his delivery and inconsistent command or action on his offspeed pitches came when he spun off the mound, which happened less as the game went on. Scouts passed along that Danks sat 89-91 with an 86-88 mph cutter before the surgery, so you can expect Danks to be an effective innings-eating rotation piece once his velocity can consistently be where he started last night's game.

Zach Lee was the biggest prospect arm in the two games I saw, but has turned from a young arm with dynamic stuff into a pitcher with some similarities to a veteran like Danks. I've now scouted Lee all three of his full seasons since spurning a scholarship to play QB at LSU to take a $5.25 million bonus to enter the Dodgers system. In 2011, he was 92-94 hitting 95 mph with a two-plane slider that flashed plus along with a highly athletic delivery. Improving a changeup and his consistency were the only concerns to 2/3 starter upside. In 2012, he was 90-93 with sink from a a new delivery that was more east-west and an improved changeup that flashed average but his slider was also average at best, with the bite disappearing in under a year. He was much closer this week to his 2012 self than the 2011 version, which is both positive and negative.

Lee worked 91-93 in the first inning with some above average cut created by his crossfire delivery, mixing in a two-seamer at 89-91 mph. He settled in at 90-92, hitting 93 for the rest of the outing with an aggressive approach, occasional above average run and cut and an ability to locate to both sides of the plate. More importantly, his slider regained some of it's former bite at 83-86 mph with three-quarter tilt, length and occasional hard late bite. It was still mostly an average pitch, but flashed 55 potential on the 20-80 scale and has the same shape as the pitch that flashed 60 in 2011, whereas he threw a soft cutter in 2012. Lee's 83-86 mph changeup is still a little firm, but at the lower end of the range it flashed 55 potential as well, with good deception and bottom, along with enough fade to elicits swings and misses. The show-me curveball is still a usable fourth pitch at 72-74 mph but Lee also threw a couple harder ones at 77 mph that were solid-average with the added power.

I don't love Lee's delivery but he's such a good athlete (as you can see from the video) that he makes it work for him. His arm action is a little long in back, slightly longer than his amateur days and the angle he takes to create deception and hip torque for velocity would also create command and health issues for someone less athletic than he is. Lee's arm is on time and his slot is very high, helped some by tilting his torso a bit more than I'd like to see at release, but it's a low-effort, repeatable delivery for Lee. His angle also helps keep his hip closed, eliminating a common issue for young pitchers and he lands in a good position to field. He can over-stride and pitch against his front leg at times, leading to elevating pitches but Lee stays down in the zone for the most part and shows an ability to generate ground balls. There isn't a lot of swing-and-miss but there is some feel, athleticism and four pitches. It's looking more like Lee is a 4th starter type now with an outside chance at a #3, but that's better than the outlook a year ago when we weren't sure if his diminishing stuff had stopped its slide yet.

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