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Cincinnati's Leake way ahead of schedule

Bob Nightengale on Mike Leake, the 2009 first-round pick who didn't need any minor-league seasoning. From Cincinnati.com:

    Leake, with long, sandy-brown hair, a shaggy goatee and flip-flops, looks more like a kid who rode his skateboard to class than a major league pitcher.

    The Reds media guide lists him at 6-1, 190 pounds.

    The reality, he says, is he's 5-10 1/2, 175 pounds.

    Maybe that's why no one paid him much attention this spring. Not the news media. Not the fans. Hardly even the Reds.

    They had their Strasburg after signing Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector with a 100-mph fastball, to a four-year, $30 million deal over the winter.

    There were no breathless dispatches on Leake from spring training.

    --snip--

    He was selected eighth overall in the 2009 draft and received a $2.3 million signing bonus, dwarfed by Strasburg's deal.

    --snip--

    On the mound, there is no need for words. He has pitched at least six innings in each of his 10 starts, yielding a .243 batting average. He barely throws 92 mph but has confidence to throw any variation of his pitches - fastball, cutter, sinker, slider, changeup - in any count.

A few points:

  • $2.3 million is actually a pretty fair amount of money;

  • I can't speak for anyone else, but I wrote about Leake a number of times in March;

  • There's nothing wrong with throwing 92, especially when you have other good pitches and keep the ball down; and

  • Entering this spring, Leake was widely regarded as the Reds' fourth- or fifth-best prospect.

  • Which is to say, it's not like Leake was completely under the radar. It's just that nobody expected him to pitch in the majors so soon, because these things just aren't done anymore. I do believe that most years, there's a pitcher or two who's ready to pitch effectively in the majors immediately after signing his first professional contract.

    I think Leake is probably one of those guys. We don't know all that much about him yet, though. His 2.45 ERA is almost surely a mirage of sorts. He's a ground-ball pitcher, but not exceptionally so. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.81) ranks 38th among 56 qualifying National League pitchers. His underlying statistics suggest an ERA closer to 4 than 3, and after only 66 innings we can't just blindly accept those statistics, either; it's certainly possible that Leake, at this point, has the abilities of a 4.45 pitcher rather than a 2.45 pitcher.

    Which isn't to take anything (meaningful) away from Leake. He's an impressive pitcher and he's an impressive fellow, if only for admitting that he's nothing like 6-1 and 190 pounds.