The Los Angeles Dodgers have long been known for finding some of the best future aces in baseball. Two of them are currently members of their rotation in Clayton Kershaw and teenage sensation Julio Urias. A third could very well be on the way.
Jose De Leon finally appears healthy after a very enduring start to 2016. De Leon began the season in extended spring training, working his way back from an ankle sprain. He came out firing in his 2016 debut on May 3 — his first Triple-A appearance of his career — recording nine strikeouts in five innings. Unfortunately, he found himself back on the disabled list with a sore shoulder after the outing.
Who is Jose De Leon, and where did he come from?
The Dodgers may have found the steal of the 2013 MLB Draft when they selected De Leon 724th overall in the 24th round. The right-hander came to the Dodgers from Southern University, where he earned First Team All-SWAC honors with an impressive junior season that saw him go 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA and 63 strikeouts.
His 2013 professional debut didn’t go very well, as De Leon looked very much like a 24th-round draft pick. He played at two levels of Rookie ball, posting a combined 3-5 record, behind a 6.96 ERA and 1.66 WHIP while allowing opposing batters to hit .309 against him. He did strike out a batter per inning, so there were positives.
Then, the progress started.
De Leon arrived a bit overweight when drafted, carrying 220 pounds in his 6-foot-2 frame. He has since dropped nearly 30 pounds, starting in that 2014 season. Improving his conditioning has coincided with improved mechanics and command, and he has since boosted himself from a 24th-rounder to one of the premier pitching prospects not only on the Dodgers, but all of baseball.
His age-21 sophomore campaign saw him bounce back in a big way, taking home Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year honors behind a 5-0 record with a 2.65 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 77 strikeouts to just 19 walks in 54.1 innings. His domination at the Rookie level earned him a promotion to his first sampling of full-season ball and he was equally, if not more, dominating.
De Leon posted insane numbers in his four-start promotion. He concluded 2014 going 2-0 with a 1.19 ERA and a microscopic 0.71 WHIP. His 42-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over just 22.2 innings had announced to the minor league world that Jose De Leon had, in fact, arrived.
De Leon split 2015 between two levels. Yet another overpowering run in the High-A California League — where he went 4-1 with a 1.67 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP and a 58-to-8 strikeout-to-walk mark over 37.2 innings — earned him All-Star honors before a promotion to Double-A. De Leon was a bit more hittable in handling the most advanced hitters of his short career, but still posted fantastic numbers. A 3.64 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and .216 batting average against is nothing to be concerned over, especially when he struck out 105 and walked only 29 over 76.2 innings. He led all of minor league baseball with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2015.
Which brings us to present day. As previously mentioned, De Leon has battled injuries thus far, but when he’s been on the mound, he has looked very much like the De Leon the Dodgers have come to know.
For more analysis on his nasty pitch arsenal, when he could arrive, and exciting video footage of his dominating 12 strikeout performance, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full article by clicking on the link below!