The Background: Leake, 22, jumps right to the Majors without playing a single game in the minor leagues (save for six appearances in the Arizona Fall League). He beat out Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman for the final spot in the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation. The club’s first round pick from ’09 (eighth overall) was drafted out of Arizona State University and signed by scout Clark Crist.
Leake was a favorite amongst MLB teams as an advanced college pitcher that should make the Majors quickly. The right-hander did not have the best stuff in the draft but he still produced solid numbers: 1.71 ERA, 6.0 H/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 10.3 K/9. He also allowed just four home runs in 142.0 innings of work.
The Pre-Game Scouting Report: Leake’s fastball is said to be in the 88-94 mph range and it sits 89-91 mph. It is also said to have natural cutting action and good movement. When he’s on, he should produce a good number of ground-ball outs. As for his secondary stuff, he is said to have a 79-82 mph slider, a solid change-up and a show-me curveball. His control is good, his command is plus. Just 6’0”, he’s athletic, durable, and has good mound presence.
Game: March 20 (Spring Exhibition)
Opponent: San Francisco Giants (Todd Wellemeyer)
Conditions: Afternoon game, sunny, no wind, 66 F
The Notes: In his first inning of work against the Giants (the fourth inning of the game), Leake was flying open with his shoulder while facing the first three batters. He gave up a first-pitch single, recorded an out thanks to a diving grab by center-fielder Chris Burke (yes, that Chris Burke), and recorded the lead runner on an unsuccessful first-pitch sac bunt. Once he fixed his motion, Leake looked better but his fastball was almost exclusively 88-89 mph. The majority of his pitches were fastballs, with two sliders mixed in.
During his second inning on the mound, Leake’s command was off and he varied his arm angles, dropping as far down as sidearm. He also broke out the fading change-up to left-handed batters, but the hitters weren’t biting; the pitches were down and off the plate. He was definitely getting his fastballs up more than a ground-ball pitcher should.
Leake looked tired in his third inning of work and start off the inning by mixing his pitches more than he did in previous at-bats. His stuff lacked movement and he was hanging his curveball. He just missed giving up a three-run homer to back-up catcher Eli Whiteside.
The Conclusion: Leake’s fastball hit 90 mph just once in this three-inning outing. He varied his arm angles to give the hitters different looks but it seemed to throw off his control. The former first rounder’s heater was MLB average-at-best in this game. His secondary stuff wasn’t fooling anyone, for the most part. He recorded three ground-ball outs, one strikeout, and five fly-ball outs. Leake definitely did not look like a former first rounder in this game… and he certainly did not look like a pitcher worthy of skipping the minor leagues all together. It will be interesting to see him pitch when he’s on his game.
Travis Wood (starter): Wood was battling Leake for the fifth spot in the rotation until the final days of the spring. Wood had a breakout year in ’09 after significantly improving his control. He’ll head down to triple-A and should be one of the first starting pitchers recalled by the Reds (along with Aroldis Chapman). Wood was originally a second round pick out of a Arkansas high school in 2005 (signed by Mike Keenan).
In this game, Wood gave up three runs on two homers (Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff) in the first inning. The first bomb came on a 91-mph fastball up and over the plate; Wood was behind in the count 2-0. The second jack came two batters later on what appeared to be an 86-mph cutter up – again up and over the plate. He doesn’t have the velo to pitch up in the zone like that and his pitches lacked movement in the first inning. Wood’s command was much better in his second inning and he struck out the first two batters on cutters. It’s clear that he pitches better when he takes a little off of his fastball. His curve is a show-me pitch. Wood also has a good pick-off move and caught Andres Torres in the second inning.
Logan Ondrusek (relief): A surprise addition to the Opening Day roster, the 6’8” Ondrusek took a while to conquer his delivery – as most tall pitchers do – and he spent five seasons in minors after being nabbed out of a small community college in the 13th round of the 2005 draft (signed by scout Brian Wilson). The right-hander flew through high-A and double-A in ’09 before settling in at triple-A. The big reason for his success was a new-found cutter, as well as an improvement in his fastball velocity while working exclusively out of the bullpen (from 88-92 to 92-95 mph).
Against the Giants, Ondrusek mainly used his fastball and cutter. He was pretty much 88-90 mph with the fastball. He was comfortable busting hitters inside and also worked away effectively but he might need to change hitters’ eye levels a bit more often to be successful at the MLB level. In his first inning of work, Ondrusek worked up in the zone, which caused him to get a lot of fly balls. He actually did not record a ground-ball out in this game (four FBs and two Ks).