Freshman Spotlight: UCLA’s Justin Lee Primed For Breakout 2024 Season


Image credit: Justin Lee (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Justin Lee last spring was the ace on a loaded Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) squad, sporting a minuscule 1.24 ERA with an impressive 102-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 67.2 innings pitched. There was plenty of draft chatter surrounding Lee and while there was interest in the top four rounds, his commitment to Coach John Savage and UCLA remained strong. Lee, along with fellow freshmen Roch Cholowsky and Roman Martin, are the headliners of the No. 1–ranked recruiting class in the country.

Aesthetically Pleasing

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound righthander has an aesthetically pleasing and easy operation on the mound with a clean arm stroke and advanced mechanics. Lee sits well on his back side and explodes down the mound. He stays on plane in his delivery and does not fall off the mound, which are two contributing factors to his strike throwing ability.

Lee pitches in the 91-94 mph range with his fastball, but has routinely been up to 95 and 96. He heavily relies on the pitch, and for good reason. It has running life out of the hand and generates ample swing and miss. It is currently an above-average offering and with a chance to add a couple more ticks of velocity, could eventually grade out as plus.

Lee’s main offspeed attraction is his low-80s split-changeup that he’ll throw to both right and lefthanded hitters. It is still developing, but has flashed above average with late downward action. Rounding out his arsenal, Lee throws a low-80s slider that he lacks feel for but at times has plenty of sweeping action. With continued development, it has the chance to be a true swing-and-miss pitch for Lee.

Lee’s Future

Given the departures of Kelly Austin (5-4, 3.39 ERA), Jake Brooks (6-6, 5.64 ERA), Ethan Flanagan (2-1, 5.12 ERA) and Alonzo Tredwell (4-2, 3.57 ERA), there is plenty of competition for the three weekend starter roles. Michael Barnett (1-0, 3.97 ERA) seems destined for the rotation, while returners Luke Jewett (1-1, 5.31 ERA), Finn McIlroy (2-0, 4.50 ERA) and Cody Delvecchio (1-4, 4.20 ERA) are all potential candidates to start. Lee has shown well this fall and is also squarely in contention to earn a spot in the weekend rotation.

Should Lee pitch in the rotation for three seasons leading up to when he is next draft eligible, he could be one of the top collegiate arms in the 2026 class. The key for Lee to maximize his upside will be for his secondary offerings to continue to take positive strides, which in turn will boost his profile as a starting pitcher.

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