But that doesn't mean it's too late for the former first-round pick to develop into a serviceable major league pitcher.
"I would hope so," Lee, 24, said, when asked whether he should be more prominent in the rotation picture this season. "I felt like I did a real good job of having a great year and establishing myself as another valuable option last season. Hopefully, I'm brought up in that mix and can contribute sooner rather than later."
Lee was named the organization's minor league pitcher of the year after combining to go 11-6 with a 2.70 earned-run average in 19 starts for triple-A Oklahoma City, but with a fastball that sits in the 92-mph range and no dominant secondary pitch, he averaged only 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
"I don't think he has one wipeout pitch that might wow you," Manager Dave Roberts said. "But when his command is good, when he's down in the zone and working the cutter, the change and the sinker, changing eye levels with the fastball up, there's some things he can do. … When Zach's right, he gets major league hitters out."
Lee made his big league debut last July 25, giving up seven earned runs and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings of a 15-2 loss to the New York Mets, after which he was sent back to triple A.
He's competing with Mike Bolsinger and Brandon Beachy for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring and admitted that he would be "a little bit" disappointed if he wasn't given serious consideration.
"As long as I had a fair opportunity, I don't know if I would necessarily be frustrated," Lee said. "At the same time, it's not really my decision to make. It's the people up top, and they know what they want to do and what's best for the organization. … You have to kind of take your opportunities as they come. and so far I feel that I'm in a good spot this year to be able to make an impact."