Last Wednesday night at Citi Field Sandy Alderson & co. held a formal Q & A session with 2013 season ticket holders. For anyone interested in a short summary Adam Rubin had most of the highlights. In short, very little new ground was broken.
However, one of Sandy's key lieutenants, J.P. Ricciardi, did shed some light on an interesting topic for 2013 -- at least for us prospect watchers. When asked a question about 2011 fifth rounder Jack Leathersich, Ricciardi stated,
"I think he’s one of the guys who could get a taste of the big leagues at some point this year...It’s nice to have a left-hander with a ‘strikeout-ability.'"
What makes this such an interesting question -- and even more interesting answer -- is that Leathersich was previously not really on the radar to make the big club this season. Do we expect him to make an impact at the highest level at some point? Absolutely, I just would have probably pegged his debut for some time in 2014 or so.
Leathersich did not appear in our recent piece profiling seven Mets prospects who could make an impact in 2013, nor was he featured in Baseball Prospectus' 'Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2013)'. In the recent 2013 top 50 prospect rankings I placed the stocky lefty in the no. 22 spot. Certainly a somewhat high-profile ranking considering he's more or less a top 20 talent, though I pointed out the fact that despite the continued aptitude to strike out the world, his performance was not as flawless in 2012.
Let's review that performance:
The 22-year-old Leathersich split his 2012 season between Low-A Savannah and High-A St. Lucie. In the former stretch, the LeatherRocket -- as he is known in the Twitterverse -- picked up right where he left off in his dominant pro debut with Brooklyn in 2011, posting a 0.75 ERA and striking out 37 batters against just eight walks in 24 innings. That was good for a ridiculous 39.8% strikeout rate, fourth-best in all of Low-A baseball*. He trailed only Red Sox 2011 19th overall selection Matt Barnes, Yankees excellent relief prospect Nick Goody, and Dylan Bundy.
However, upon his promotion Leathersich was suddenly getting hit for the first time in his pro career. He allowed the first three homers of his career and posted a mediocre 4.13 ERA in 48 innings at High-A. Additionally, his walk rate jumped from a moderately acceptable 8.6% up to a wilder 11.2%.
Regardless, there is some basis here for Ricciardi's comments. Namely the fact that despite his struggles Leathersich continued to strike out 35.5% of batters, the eighth-best in all of High-A*. Of those eight Leathersich was one of only three pitchers under 23-years old. The other two were Tigers supposed 2013 closer/the hardest thrower in the minors, Bruce Rondon and Yankees top ten prospect/potential impact reliever in 2013 Mark Montgomery. Additionally, Leathersich was the only lefthander within the top 20.
For some additional silver lining, despite the poor ERA, Leathersich posted a much more enviable 2.66 FIP for St. Lucie. Clearly there's something worth paying attention to here. The question is do we think that something will get him to the show in 2013? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to look to the Mets current big league bullpen.
Namely, Josh Edgin is another young lefty reliever who featured excellent strikeout rates in the minors and as a result shot to the majors. So did he blaze the trail for Leathersich?
Well, it would seem that aside from a shared profile as lefty relievers with good stuff they followed a similar promotion timeline after being drafted -- Edgin moved through A-ball in 2011 -- and have a lot in common numerically as well:
The numbers are strikingly similar. However, the key differences are two-fold: The first is obviously Leathersich's increased walk rate after reaching High-A. Command woes are something that have emerged as Edgin's central weakness -- though only once he approached the majors, not back in A-ball like Leathersich. Now it was only his first stretch of command problems so we can't label him just yet, but that would speak to the second difference...
Specifically, that is a difference in stuff. The 6'1", 225-lb Edgin averaged 93.3 MPH on the fastball in his major league debut and as we know he can dial it up to the 97-98 MPH range. At 5'11', 205 lbs Leathersich flashes mid-90s on the high end but works more in the 90-93 MPH range. Additionally, while he has shown improvement on a solid curveball, it is not close to the equal of Edgin's plus slider.
One more thing that is important to remember with Leathersich is that while he worked quite a bit with Savannah Pitching Coach Frank Viola on repeating his delivery, he still features unorthodox mechanics. This is a double-edged sword in that it makes repeating his delivery -- and thus throwing strikes -- tougher; however, it also clearly makes it tougher for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. For evaluators, it's tough to know how much of his success is sustainable as many a successful low-level reliever with deceptive mechanics has been chewed up against higher level hitters.
Ultimately, you can chalk some of the success up to deception but the stuff isn't necessarily bad and that is evident in the obscene amount of strikeouts. However, while Edgin may prove a decent comp, I'd say another small lefty reliever from Massachusetts is a better one: Kansas City's Tim Collins. Collins too strikes out the world based on good velocity and a good curveball. For Leathersich, the key will be repeating his delivery as well as Collins does. If he can do that, expect to see him maybe get a cup of coffee this September. However, I'd say there's a better bet that he'll need the full season to tighten up the mechanics/command before a debut in 2014.
*Among players with at least 20 innings pitched