Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Have you heard? The Reds have a 22-year-old pitcher with no major league experience, in his first major league spring training camp, who has so far turned in a world-class performance.

Have you joined the Mania? In five innings, he's allowed no runs, earned or otherwise, given up only 2 hits and 1 walk, and has recorded six strikeouts.

He's from Cuba, right? Wait, no ... San Diego, what? But I thought ...

That's right, Mike Leake, the Reds #1 draft pick in 2009, who is less than three months older than Aroldis Chapman, has been dominant so far this spring.

College Baseball Achievements
Leake was among the most accomplished pitchers in college baseball. As a junior last year at Arizona State University, he compiled a 16-1 record with a 1.71 ERA. He (not Stephen Strasburg) was named 2009 National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association and was also a first-team All-American and Academic All-American.

"That little dude can pitch." -- Dusty Baker
Based on what I saw in Goodyear yesterday, I couldn't agree more with Dusty Baker's assessment. Mike Leake can flat out bring it. And I can't wait to see him pitching in a Reds uniform in Great American Ballpark.

One of the first things I noticed was how quickly Leake works on the mound. Several times he had received the pitch signal and was waiting for the hitter to get in the batter's box. He took the throw back from the catcher, looked right in for the indication, and was ready to deliver. He struck out four batters in two innings against the Oakland A's.

In his previous outing, he faced the Angels in Tempe, where he played college ball at ASU. He also pitched two scoreless innings in that outing.

“It was kind of fun facing some major leaguers. I’m finally where I had a goal to be – I’m not quite there – it was nice to face some people I’ve been watching on TV for a long time."

“I was hoping it was their big guys. That’s what I need to face, so I know what I’m up against when I get to that point. It’s kind of like a dream come true right now.”

Leake had his good stuff working.

“My sinker was actually working a little too much for me,” Leake said. “I didn’t get the feel until the second inning. It was working well. I was trying to mix up.”

His only quibble with his outing was his walk of Bobby Abreu.

“I don’t like walking people,” he said. “That’s my pet peeve. It was good coming back and getting the groundball.”

Other scouting reports
ESPN baseball analyst Keith Law had this to say about Leake in his preview of the Top 100 prospects in baseball (Leake was #72).
Leake pitched at 88-92 mph in college but will probably be more 87-90 working every fifth day. But that two-seamer has a hard, late tailing action that should get ground balls and even break some bats. He has a standard assortment of off-speed pitches, including a short two-planer curveball with a break that appears to accelerate as it approaches the batter, a hard changeup around 80-81 mph with some tail, and a slider with good tilt just below that velocity. He's a serious strike-thrower who commands his fastball and works fast, which may give hitters less time to adjust to the way he's changing speeds and locations on them.

Can he make the team?
When Dusty Baker was asked this question recently, he said:
“I don’t know. This is Leake’s first spring training period. It’s Wood’s first major-league camp. Let’s let them pitch first. And then we’ll see what’s happening. Just go pitch, son. Don’t worry about making the team. Don’t worry about not making the team. Don’t worry about nothing.”

Realistically, with Harang, Arroyo, Cueto and Bailey already penciled in for the rotation, the odds for Leake right now are high. His main competition is Matt Maloney. Chad Dotson, at Redleg Nation, makes a compelling case that Maloney has already "won" the #5 job. And, of course, there is Aroldis Chapman. It's a great luxury for the Reds that they can keep Leake in the minors for a while, and let him get used to professional baseball.

But he's no "prospect." Leake is polished. He has won 40 games in college already, and passed the Arizona Fall League test with ease (1.37 ERA in 5 starts). He's not your typical young pitcher who needs a lot of seasoning. He's very close to being ready to help the Reds.

Leake, Chapman and Travis Wood sure make it a lot more comforting to contemplate a post-Harang, post-Arroyo world in 2011.

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