- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ATLANTA -- In a development that had to have been as shocking to the Louisiana State University football program and its fans as it was to a legion of Los Angeles Dodgers cynics who were sure the club had deliberately thrown away its first-round draft pick on an unsignable player in an effort to save money, the Dodgers reached agreement with that first-round pick, right-hander Zach Lee from McKinney (Texas) High School, just before Monday night's deadline for signing 2010 draft choices.
The deal, which is pending a physical examination that is expected to take place Wednesday in Los Angeles, carries a $5.25 million signing bonus that will be paid out during the next five years.
It is the biggest signing bonus awarded to a draft pick in Dodgers history, shattering the mark of $2.3 million given to first-rounder Clayton Kershaw in 2006.
Lee, one of the top high school pitchers in this year's draft, fell to the 28th overall pick because he let it be known before the draft it would take at least a $5 million bonus to get him to give up his football scholarship to LSU, where he would play quarterback in the fall and baseball in the spring.
Lee already was participating in preseason football drills with the Tigers and told reporters at a Southeastern Conference media event last week that he hadn't talked to the Dodgers all summer.
"As you know, this player was deemed as unsignable,'' said Logan White, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for amateur scouting, who drafted Lee and spearheaded the summerlong negotiations."I think if they thought they could sign him, a majority of teams would have taken him. There were a number of teams among those drafting in the first 10 that inquired about him. So we feel really fortunate we were able to draft him and get this done.
"I think he is a tremendous person. It's not easy being in his shoes. Everyone can say he is getting a lot of money, but he had a tough decision to make at LSU.''
Les Miles, LSU's football coach, issued a written statement after Lee informed him of his decision to sign with the Dodgers.
"This was a very personal decision for Zach and his family,'' the statement read. "This opportunity was just too difficult to pass up. We wish Zach and his family the very best. He is an outstanding young man, and we hope he develops into a great major league pitcher."
Meanwhile, speculation continued to grow all summer that the Dodgers -- whose owner, Frank McCourt, slashed the team's payroll by about $25 million before this season and presently is embroiled in an expensive divorce from his estranged wife, former Dodgers chief executive officer Jamie McCourt -- had deliberately tanked the pick in order to save the expense of signing a first-round pick.
White, however, said he never doubted an agreement eventually would be reached.
"At the risk of sounding cocky ... I thought we certainly would be able to do it from the get-go,'' White said."One thing I want to emphasize is that I understood the skepticism when we took him. ... I always want to be known as someone who is honest and up front and has integrity. I don't think I ever believed we couldn't do it, or we certainly wouldn't have taken him. But I think we had ot make a run at a guy who has that type of ability.''
Both White and Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti offered gratitude and praise for both McCourt and Dodgers president Dennis Mannion for providing the resources to sign Lee.
"I think it tells you that if we have the right player, we will do what we have to do to get the right player signed,'' Colletti said."There are a lot of different dynamics to every agreement and every deal.''
Also on Monday, the Dodgers reached agreement with 11th-round pick Joc Pederson, a center fielder out of Palo Alto High School, for $600,000, an extraordinary amount for such a low-round selection. That was the second-largest bonus awarded to any of the Dodgers' 2010 draft picks, $136,000 more than the bonus given to second-round pick Ralston Cash, a right-hander out of Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, Ga.
However, Pederson probably would have gone much higher if he hadn't scared teams off by letting it be known before the draft that he was seeking a $1 million bonus to give up his scholarship to USC.
The Dodgers also just beat the deadline with 26th-round pick Scott Schebler, a center fielder out of Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College. But right-hander Kevin Gausman, a high-school right-hander out of suburban Denver and the Dodgers' sixth-round pick, opted not to sign with the club and to honor his baseball scholarship to LSU.
White said Lee's contract won't allow him to play football on the side.
"He is absolutely 100 percent dedicated to baseball,'' White said.
However, in the unlikely event Lee changes his mind down the road and goes back to football, White said there are provisions in the contract that will limit the Dodgers' financial losses, although he wouldn't go into detail as to what those provisions are.
As a pitcher, White said Lee is a better all-around athlete than either Kershaw or Chad Billingsley, two recent first-round picks (2006 and 2004, respectively) who are now mainstays in the Dodgers' starting rotation.
"He has an absolutely picture-perfect delivery and excellent arm action,'' White said."He is as pure as any pitcher I have ever seen. He has power stuff like Kershaw and Billingsley, but when those guys were younger, they would almost fight through a wall sometimes and try to overpower somebody, but they have grown and learned how to pitch more than just throw and be more effective with their pitch counts.
"I think Lee at the same age has a better feel for how to pitch than Chad or Clayton, and I don't mean that to disparage them at all.''
White said Lee's fastball touches 95 mph, but that he normally pitches in the 89-90 range, has a good breaking ball and a great changeup.
White hinted that Lee, who immediately will jump to the head of the pack as the Dodgers' top pitching prospect, might not pitch for any of the club's minor league affiliates this season, which makes sense given that all of those affiliates' regular-season schedules will conclude within the next three weeks or so. But White said Lee will be ready to go by the time the Arizona Instructional League begins in the fall.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg