Talking with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo mentioned Evan Lee, a 2018 15th Round Draft pick from the University of Arkansas, as one pitcher, among several he name-checked, who could make an impact in the majors at some point in 2022.
Rizzo was discussing the progress of the organization’s reboot, and talking about when the next wave of young talent in the system might make an impact at the big league level.
“This blueprint and this plan is to reboot this thing in a quick manner,” Rizzo explained, “so when you look at the core people like a [Josiah] Gray and [Joan] Adon and the [2020 1st Rd. pick Cade] Cavallis and the [Cole] Henrys and the [Rodney] Theophiles and the [Jake] Irvins, and the Mitchell Parkers in the minor leagues that are having great seasons that are knocking on the door in the big leagues, that’s your next wave, along with the guys that are currently under contract [in the majors]. And that’s what we’re seeing.”
In addition to those pitchers he mentioned, Rizzo highlighted some others who are on the come, including Lee.
“You’ve got guys that are knocking on the big league door like [shortstop Luis] García and [outfielder Josh] Palacios, and Tres Barrera is having a terrific season at Rochester, and then you’ve got the power stuff of Cavalli and Henry and Evan Lee and [Matt] Cronin, who’s got a very — a 0.00 ERA in Double-A [and now has 2.0 scoreless innings at Triple-A] ... these guys are going to help in the very, very near future.”
Lee is just the first. Called up for a spot start after the Nationals used two members of their rotation in one day in this past Saturday’s doubleheader with the Colorado Rockies in D.C., Lee, 24, owned a 3.60 ERA, a 3.57 FIP, 15 walks (4.50 BB/9), and 37 Ks (11.10 K/9) in seven starts and 30 IP at Double-A, and the left-hander got a chance to test himself against the NL East-leading New York Mets today in Citi Field.
“He’s a good scouting and player development story, you know he’s a late-round pick out of Arkansas and a good left-handed arm that’s really developed, and still developing late in his career,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in advance of the third of three with the Mets on Wednesday.
“We had to put him on the 40-man roster last year to guard against someone taking him in the Rule 5 Draft. And he’s pitched well in Double-A this year, he’s on the 40-man roster, we like the fact that a left-handed pitcher against the Mets has more success than righties, so that all went into our thought process. And hey, it’s a good stepping stone for his career. It will be a good developmental time in his life, and something he’ll always remember and coming in here against a hostile crowd, against a really good team, and see if he can get us a W here and get out of here and go on to Cincinnati.”
Ranked No. 17 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top prospects in the Nationals’ system for 2022, Lee, “... works primarily in the low-90s with his fastball, earning solid reviews for the pitch’s spin rate and life up in the zone,” according to their scouting report, and mixes in a, “high-70s curveball [which] can tickle the bottom of the zone — a nice contrast to the high fastball — and it’s the pitch that gets the most whiffs in his current arsenal.”
“He added a cutter in 2021,” they noted, after he moved from a relief to a starting role, “... that he used primarily on lefties, and a low-80s, show-me changeup provides another less exciting option.”
The key for him going into his MLB debut?
“Strikes,” manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame press conference with reporters.
“He’s got to pound the strike zone, work in and out, he’s got good stuff, really good stuff. He’s got a sneaky fastball. So, you know, like I said, I talked to him, I told him, ‘You have a routine, nothing changes. 60-feet, 6 inches, you know?’ So he’s ready. I talked to him this morning, he says he feels good, he’s ready.”
Lee issued one walk in each of his first three innings on the mound in the majors in Citi Field, but the left-hander stranded all three, and two batters who got on with singles in three scoreless frames which he completed on 56 pitches.
His outing ended in the fourth, however, with J.D. Davis singling to right on a first-pitch fastball to lead off, Luis Guillorme walking with one down, and both runners scoring on Tomás Nido’s single to center, which Dee Strange-Gordon booted, 2-0.
Lee got out No. 2, on a line drive to right by Brandon Nimmo, but his manager went out to get him after he’d thrown his 67th pitch...
Evan Lee’s MLB Debut: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 Ks, 67 P, 45 S, 3/3 GO/FO.
Lee threw 61% fastballs (41 of 67 pitches), which averaged 91.8 MPH and got up to 93.6, and mixed in a curveball (37%), while throwing one changeup in the outing, generating just four swinging strikes, while collecting 12 called strikes overall.
The lefty’s experience of his MLB debut?
“I got some really good advice before the game to take a moment to really look around,” Lee said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman:
“When you toe that rubber, just look around and admire being there on that big league mound, that I would never forget it. And I can’t thank them enough for that, because it was special to achieve a lifelong dream, and to go out and have some success. I wish I had a couple pitches back from the outing, and there were a couple batters I feel like I fell behind when I needed to get ahead in some certain scenarios. But as far as a first debut, I’ll take it.”
“I liked what I saw out of Lee,” his manager told reporters after a 5-0 loss and three-game sweep at the hands of their divisional rivals.
“He was good,” Martinez added. “He threw some strikes. He’s got good stuff. He’ll probably get another opportunity in five days to go back out there and start again. I like him, he was very poised, he mentioned some things after he came out which I liked with our conversations, so I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch again.”
What were the things he mentioned?
“I [asked] him, ‘How’d you feel?’ He said, ‘I felt good.’ I told him, ‘You made some really good pitches when you needed to.’ I said, ‘The walks, the walks here will hurt you,’ and he understood that. I think he did a good job though, of handling himself for the first time ever pitching in the big leagues, I thought he did a really good job handling himself.”