The Los Angeles Dodgers announced Thursday the winners of their annual Branch Rickey Awards, given to the top minor league performers of the year. Right-hander Zach Lee took home the award for best pitcher and outfielder Alex Verdugo was named the best player.
Lee was selected by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2010 draft. The two-sport star turned down a scholarship to LSU in order to play professional baseball. He debuted the following year with Low-A Great Lakes, where he posted a 3.47 ERA in 109 innings.
The following year Lee split his season between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga, finishing with a combined 4.39 ERA. In 2013, he broke out, returning to Chattanooga and putting up a 3.22 ERA in 142.2 innings.
That season he won his first Branch Rickey Award. Last year was difficult for the righty, as he went to Triple-A Albuquerque, a notorious hitter’s park, and saw his ERA skyrocket to 5.39. This season Lee benefitted from the move to the far more friendly confines of Okhlahoma City, where he posted a 2.70 ERA in 19 starts, as well as making his Major-League debut.
Verdugo was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft as an outfielder. That’s notable due to the fact that the majority of teams saw him as a left-handed pitcher, capable of reaching 95 mph with his fastball and throwing a quality breaking ball.
The Dodgers saw something special in his bat and he’s proven them to be right thus far. In his debut, Alex played for both the AZL Dodgers and the Rookie-Level Ogden Raptors, hitting a combined .353/.421/.511 with more walks (20) than strikeouts (18).
However, his second season didn’t start as smoothly. The 19 year old was tasked with hitting in the dreaded Midwest League, where offense goes to die, and he struggled. Through the first two months of the season, Verdugo was batting just .213 heading into June.
However, some minor adjustments allowed him to completely turn his season around, as he hit .356 the rest of the way, including a line of .385/.406/.659 after a late-season promotion to Rancho. In Dodgers Nation’s installment of handing out awards, Jose De Leon and Cody Bellinger were named the winners of the yearly Branch Rickey Award.
All four players had special seasons and each one of them deserves recognition. While De Leon and Lee are close to impacting the Major-League team, Bellinger and Verdugo aren’t far behind them.