It appears the first player from the 2009 draft to make his major league debut will not be Stephen Strasburg after all. Mike Leake looks like he will be named Cincinnati’s fifth starter to start the season. According to Rob Neyer, Leake would become the first pitcher since Darren Dreifort in 1994 to skip the minor leagues completely. Leake was taken eighth overall after a sensational junior season at Arizona State.
Leake signed too late to pitch in any minor league games but did perform well in the Arizona Fall League and during spring training. He struck out 15 and walked just three in 19 innings of work in the AFL. Leake’s command sets him apart from other pitching prospects. He has the ability to locate four pitches for strikes. During the ’09 season Leake posted a tremendous 6.75 K/BB ratio. He also possess tremendous poise and a feel for pitching which scouts praise.
Although he has a similar slender and athletic build to Tim Lincecum his stuff is not nearly has overpowering. His fastball sits comfortably in the low-90s with good sinking action. He also throws a plus slider and change-up but will need to improve upon his average curve.
Moving up a player this quickly can be risky, particularly for pitchers. Early struggles can set players back as they cope with the mental and physical adjustments of the game. Leake is slightly different in that he does not rely on tremendous stuff but rather pinpoint control and keeping hitters off balance. Even still, I would be very surprised if he made 15 starts in the majors this year. Over working the 22-year old should also be a concern especially with Dusty Baker at the helm.
I expect Leake to struggle at times this year as one might expect from any rookie pitcher. I’m not sure he has the raw stuff to develop into a true ace starter but his command might allow him to develop into an effective second or third starter in the future.