During instructional league this fall, lefthander Evan Lee was asked if he might be interested in pitching in the Arizona Fall League if a spot became available. He said he had an immediate reaction.
A 15th-round pick out of Arkansas in 2018, Lee has followed the prospect-laden league since he was in college. Though Lee wasn’t an early-round pick and signed for just $125,000, he had hoped to earn a spot in the AFL some day.
“I had friends in the league, and I’ve always wanted to compete against the best,” Lee said. “I felt like I had a good chance even though, technically, I’m not supposed to be here as a 15th-round pick.
“But whenever I struggle a little, I just tell myself I’m not supposed to be here anyway, and that helps. I just put my hard hat and go to work. In my eyes, I see myself as a big leaguer.”
Lee wrapped a season in which he recorded a 4.32 ERA with 104 strikeouts and 32 walks in 77 innings for High-A Wilmington. After proving himself as a starter, Lee was on a pitch count of about 40 in the AFL, where he was expected to have opportunities to enter as a reliever with runners on base.
Lee throws a 91-95 mph fastball, a 77-81 mph curveball and an 82-85 mph changeup. He adds in an occasional cutter to lefthanded batters.
The 6-foot-1 Lee said his arm feels great even with the higher workload.
“If you go all the way back to spring training, it totals up to around 91 innings,” he said. “. . . I’m just trying to be the most versatile pitcher I can be.”
In college, Lee pitched just 33 innings in 30 appearances, including two starts. He hit .300 or better both seasons and slugged .520 in 50 at-bats as a two-way player in his draft year.
“Having some athleticism on the mound helps me,” Lee said. “I know what tempo position players like, and I have an idea of how to attack hitters because I was one. I’m coming right at you.”
— Two trade deadline acquisitions were among the franchise’s minor league award winners. Triple-A Rochester outfielder Donovan Casey was named the organization’s defensive player of the year, while Low-A Fredericksburg shortstop Jordy Barley was the baserunner of the year.
— The Nationals named second baseman Jake Noll, a Triple-A East postseason all-star who hit .300/.346/.494 in 437 at-bats at Rochester, as their minor league player of the year. Minor league strikeout king Cade Cavalli was named pitcher of the year. Wilmington third baseman Jack Dunn, who plays every infield position, left field and even pitched in two games, won the Nationals Way award.