On Memorial Day the Tampa Bay Rays promoted right-handed pitching prospect Jose De Leon to the major league roster. He debuted immediately, pitching 2.2 innings of relief against the Texas Rangers and getting knocked around, giving up four hits and three walks for three runs, though he did fan a pair. He was sent back to Triple-A after the game but will be back later this year.
De Leon is one of the more polarizing prospects around right now, so let’s examine him.
Jose De Leon is from Puerto Rico but attended college at Southern University. He performed pretty well in college (2.84 ERA in 82 innings as a junior, 73/31 K/BB) but wasn’t a hot prospect with scouts, lasting until the 24th round of the 2013 draft.
He struggled the summer after being drafted (6.96 ERA in rookie ball) but became a completely different pitcher in 2014, dominating the Pioneer and Midwest Leagues then staying very hot in 2015 (2.95 ERA, 163/37 K/BB in 114 innings between High-A and Double-A). He continued to blitz minor league hitters in the difficult Pacific Coast League last year, but was less impressive in four major league starts then was traded to the Rays this past January.
De Leon ranked as the top prospect on the pre-season Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 prospects for 2017 list with the following comment:
1) Jose De Leon, RHP, Grade A/A-: Age 24, 24th round pick in 2013 by Dodgers from Southern University, traded to Rays on January 23rd for Logan Forsythe; posted 2.61 ERA in 86 innings in Triple-A with 111/20 K/BB and 61 hits; 6.35 ERA in 17 MLB innings with 15/7 K/BB; fastball 90-95, showed pinpoint location with it in Triple-A; mixes in plus change-up; breaking ball looked plus to me in Triple-A but was less impressive in majors; his stock is down a bit with some analysts but I still see him as an elite prospect due to superior command of three quality pitches and excellent performance record; number two or strong number three starter assuming continued good health. ETA 2017.
De Leon opened 2017 on the disabled list with “forearm discomfort” but was activated on May 11th, made a pair of starts in High-A then one in Triple-A.
I was a big advocate for De Leon pre-season but most other analysts were cooler. He had a consensus rank of 30th among MLB prospects according to Fangraphs but I had him at Number Eight overall on the early list they were working from. This dropped to 14th by Opening Day but that was still higher than everyone else had him.
The discrepancy boils down to what you think of his stuff. I saw an impressive plus breaking ball from him in the Pacific Coast League last year along with a fastball up to 95 and a very good change-up. The metrics were also excellent. Other analysts weren’t as impressed and indeed his breaking ball didn’t seem as good in the majors as what I saw from him in Triple-A.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt but I may have been wrong.
He worked mostly with his fastball and change-up yesterday so I’m not sure where the breaking ball stands, but even with the small sample of one game there is cause for concern: his heater topped out at 93 MPH and averaged just 90, down 1.5 MPH from last season.
Combine the velocity decline with the April “forearm soreness” and the check engine light is on full blast here.
Here’s what he can do when he’s right.