Last night the Cincinnati Reds acquired right-handed pitcher Jose De Leon from Tampa Bay. The Reds sent the Ray cash and a player to be named later to acquire the 27-year-old pitcher. He joined the 40-man roster, putting it at a full 40 players.
Jose De Leon went to high school in Puerto Rico, but went undrafted out of high school. He was drafted By the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013 after spending three seasons in the rotation for Southern University.
He struggled in his pro debut with the Dodgers organization. Pitching at two of their rookie-level affiliates he posted a 6.96 ERA in 53.0 innings with 21 walks and 53 strikeouts.
The next season, though, he took a huge step forward. Los Angeles held him back in extended spring training to start 2014. In June they sent him to the Pioneer League. He made a mockery of the hitter friendly league, posting a 2.65 ERA in 54.1 innings with 77 strikeouts before getting a late season promotion to the Midwest League. He was even better there, allowing three earned runs in 22.2 innings with two walks and 42 strikeouts. Better conditioning and some adjustments to his mechanics led to big results with better stuff. He jumped from unranked in the Dodgers organization to their #6 overall prospect that year.
He continued to climb the ladder for the Dodgers the next two seasons, posting a 2.99 ERA between Advanced-A and Double-A in 2015 with 163 strikeouts in 114.1 innings in 2015. In 2016 he posted a 2.61 ERA in Triple-A with 111 strikeouts in 86.1 innings before reaching the Majors that September. After the 2015 season he rated out as the #23 overall prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. After the 2016 season he was rated as the #29 prospect in the game.
Following the 2016 season he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for Logan Forsythe, who was coming off of two above-average years where he posted a combined 8.6 WAR. But the 2017 season was when things started to go south for Jose De Leon. He made several trips to the disabled list – including missing time with a flexor mass injury. His stuff fell off. The next spring he would undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of the 2018 season and the start of the 2019 season.
When Jose De Leon returned to the mound in 2019 he found plenty of success. With a juiced baseball making a mockery of Triple-A and the Major Leagues, he posted a 3.51 ERA in 51.1 innings for Triple-A Durham. The league average ERA for the year was 4.90. He had his pitch count severely limited during the season. He made 13 starts for the Bulls but topped 65 pitches just three times. Still, the strikeout stuff returned as he picked up 73 of them in his 51.1 innings in the International League. He would also pitch in three games with the Rays towards the end of the year, striking out seven more in 4.0 innings.
Jose De Leon Scouting Report
Before the flexor mass injury, and then having Tommy John surgery, the right-handed pitcher would sit 92-95 MPH with his fastball and show off a plus change up. His slider was an average third offering.
Today his velocity isn’t there anymore. In Triple-A this year he pitched 89-92 MPH, topping out around 94. The pitch moves well, showing movement on both planes. His slider and change up both still work in the low 80’s. The change up still shows itself as a swing-and-miss offering. His slider is a solid offering, but was a little inconsistent during the year at times when it comes to his ability to throw it for strikes.
As mentioned above, he pitched mostly as a starter, but did pitch out of the bullpen a few times during the year. In the minors his velocity didn’t improve in those appearances. In the Major Leagues, though, he did throw a little bit harder. We are talking about just three games, but he threw 91-93, and topped out at 95 MPH with Tampa Bay.
When looking at the stats, the walk rate in 2019 was higher than you want it to be. He walked 12.2% of the Triple-A hitters he faced. But he also struck out 33% of the hitters he faced, and that’s very strong. He’s always been a guy who leaned towards being a fly ball pitched, but in 2019 that rate was very high. He only induced ground balls on 30% of the batted balls against him. That is a rate of ground balls that is quite different from where he’s ever been in the past. It is worth keeping an eye on moving forward, though.
What to expect from Jose De Leon
This is kind of the big question, isn’t it? The stuff right now projects for possible a solid middle reliever option, or perhaps a back-of-the-rotation pitcher who could be viewed in that swingman kind of role.
But that’s only if his stuff stays where it’s at right now. The velocity is down a bit from where he was before the injuries. If that velocity returns it would likely lead to better production. And there are some reasons to be cautiously optimistic that some of it could return.
In 2019 he was in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Another year out could mean a little more velocity. Of course it may not mean that at all, too. But Jose De Leon certainly wouldn’t be the first player to see it happen that way. Another reason to think he could find some of that lost velocity is Kyle Boddy. While Boddy and Driveline certainly do more than add velocity, that is one of the things that they are known for.
One other thing of note is that Jose De Leon has one option remaining. That means that he won’t have to stick on the big league roster out of spring training or be waived, and can be sent to the minor leagues if the Reds feel that’s the best course of action.
We don’t know exactly what the Cincinnati Reds gave up at this point. They are sending Tampa Bay cash and a player to be named later. But we don’t know how much cash, or which player – and that makes a difference. With that said, the Rays made multiple trades on Wednesday to clear 40-man roster spots. That tells us that it’s likely that the cash wasn’t much, and the player to be named later won’t be a high rated prospect. And if that holds true, this definitely feels like an upside play for the Reds. It wasn’t that long ago that he was one of the better prospects in baseball and had plus stuff. He’s not that same guy now, but you’ve also seen what’s possible. The risk likely isn’t much, but the reward could be there.
He still has prospect list eligibility. MLB Pipeline had him rated as the Rays 25th best prospect. I spent about two hours watching video from a handful of games of his late on Wednesday night to get a good feel for what he brought to the table. While there’s some upside there if he can get back some of the lost velocity, that’s some hope laid onto a guy who is 27-years-old with a handful of Major League innings. I like the trade and upside play here. But I’m also not sure I’d rate him among the Reds Top 25 prospects, either. His age combined with current stuff just doesn’t get him into that group. It’s probably close, though.