Coming into Spring Training it was Aroldis Chapman, not Mike Leake, who was receiving all the attention in the Cincinnati Reds camp. The Cuban flamethrowers triple digit fastballs easily overshadowed the quiet consistency of the rookie out of Arizona State University. Yet, a quarter of the way through the season, Chapman is still toiling in Triple-A while Leake is doing is best to keep Jason Heyward from running away with the rookie of the year award—not to mention helping the Reds soar to first place in the NL Central.
The 22-year-old right hander is among a small group of hurlers who went straight to the majors without ever having thrown a pitch in the minor leagues (including such household names as Darren Dreifort, Tim Conroy and David Clyde) and Leake is making it look easy. In eight starts on the year, Leake is 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 42 strikeouts against 22 walks, and has flashed more control with each passing start. Leake’s makeup on the mound and pitching repertoire reminds many of Greg Maddux and the Reds can only hope that their young star has the same kind of career as the “Mad Dog”. Leake also shares another similarity with Greg Maddux—he handles himself at the plate with aplomb (.353 in his first 23 at-bats).
Though most pitchers not named Tim Lincecum struggle initially in the major leagues, Leake has been able to thrive in spite of his size (5’10”) and less than stellar stuff (topping out in the low 90’s). Leake explains his quick success in the major leagues:
“It’s tough for me to get intimidated. I’m more of a self-competitor rather than competing against people. For example, people worry about or ask questions about who you’re facing. Say it’s Pujols — I’m not really worried about facing him. I’m worried about hitting the glove.”
Cincinnati is 26-20 after a loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night but still sit atop their division despite a slow start and inconsistent pitching outside of Leake. The Reds have built a strong nucleus to contend with St. Louis and Chicago for the next half decade, but few expected Cincinnati to be in contention this soon.
Of course, few expected Leake to become the team’s de facto ace less than a year after graduating from college…but that’s exactly what happened.
Filed under: Baseball, NL Central, Uncategorized | Tagged: 2009 MLB Draft, aaron harang, arizona state university, aroldis chapman, chicago cubs, Cincinnati Reds, darren dreifort, david clyde, greg maddux, Homer Bailey, Jason Heyward, mike leake, NL Central, St Louis Cardinals, Starlin Castro, tim conroy, tim lincecum |