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All About Jose De Leon

We live in an unpredictable world, but some things aren't that hard to foresee. When a batter steps into the box with a 3-0 count and the bases loaded, he can safely assume a fastball is on the way.

The Dodgers emerging as the leading suitors for Brian Dozier, and dangling Jose De Leon as their primary negotiating chip, falls in the same category.
Image courtesy of Jake Roth, USA Today
Back in early October, while the Los Angeles was still mounting its postseason push, I noted via tweet that a Dozier-for-De Leon swap "makes too much sense." In the Offseason Handbook (still available for free download!), the Dodgers were the first team we listed as a fit for Dozier, and our Offseason Blueprint suggested trading the second baseman for a return led by De Leon.

Now, the Twins are consistently being connected to Los Angeles in trade rumors. Last week Aaron Gleeman relayed, per league sources, a feeling that the two teams are haggling over what would come along with De Leon in a deal. Days later, Yahoo Sports columnist Jeff Passan reinforced that notion, reporting that the "Dodgers have shown willingless" to include the top prospect in a package for Dozier. It's all coming together pretty much exactly like we predicted and hoped.

My intention here isn't to pat myself on the back. Anticipating this scenario didn't require some divine prescience – only an ability to connect the dots. The Twins are coming off a 103-loss season and could use a major shakeup, with a roster featuring a surplus of power hitting and an extreme dearth of high-caliber pitching. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are as motivated as any team in the league to get over the hump and win a title, with young arms to spare.

The top prize amongst that group, Julio Urias, was never a particularly realistic target. After successfully transitioning to the majors at age 19 and subsequently becoming the youngest pitcher ever to start a postseason game, he's not the kind of asset that was going to be made available.

De Leon, though? Far more plausible. He is four years older than Urias and doesn't carry quite the same level of luster. He also struggled a bit in his MLB debut this year and has dealt with some shoulder issues. He's not a perfect prospect.

But that doesn't mean he's leftover scraps. Far from it. In the majority of systems De Leon would be the No. 1 prospect, and if he comes over he will immediately leapfrog every pitcher on the farm for the Twins.

Let's familiarize ourselves with De Leon as we prepare for the possibility that he headlines an upcoming Dozier blockbuster.

Meteoric Riser

After finishing up high school in his native Puerto Rico, De Leon headed to the mainland to attend college in Baton Rouge. His career with Southern University featured solid numbers, including a 17-8 record and 3.50 ERA over three seasons, but he didn't catch the eyes of many pro scouts.

As a result, the slender righty dropped all the way to the 24th round. He was the 724th player selected in 2013. Earlier in that round, the Twins took Brandon Easton, a pitcher who lasted two years in rookie ball before fizzling out of the system. For players selected this late, the odds of reaching the majors – or even hanging on in the affiliated pro ranks for long – are not good.

Against this backdrop, De Leon's ascension is all the more impressive. His numbers began to rapidly improve and remained strong as he climbed the ladder. He impressed enough at each level that he never stayed anywhere for long. De Leon made four starts at Low-A, seven at High-A, 16 at Double-A and then 16 at Triple-A before getting his call to the big leagues.

Everywhere he pitched, it took him no more than half a season to convince the front office that he was too good for the competition. Prospect pubs quickly took notice. Prior to the 2016 campaign, three major lists (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com) had De Leon somewhere between 23 and 28, after never ranking him before.

The website Minor League Ball, run by longtime prospect guru John Sickels, had De Leon ranked as the game's 14th-best upcoming talent in their preseason release. In the updated end-of-year rankings, published in late September, he was fifth. Sickels placed only Yoan Moncada, Dansby Swanson, Tyler Glasnow and Lucas Giolito ahead of De Leon.

The 24-year-old owes his escalating profile to a number of skills and strengths, but none stand out more than this one:

He's A Strikeout Machine

De Leon's ability to throw the ball past helpless opposing hitters is truly something to behold. During his time in the minors, he has struck out 446 of the 1,371 men he has faced over 330 innings. That's a 12.1 K/9 average and 33 percent rate. For perspective, Jose Berrios – a fellow Puerto Rican and vaunted strikeout artist in his own right – has a 26 percent K-rate in the minors. De Leon would have easily led both the Texas League (AA) and Pacific Coast League (AAA) this year if he had stuck around long enough to qualify.

It's been somewhat rare for the Twins to boast starting pitching prospects who can even average one strikeout per inning. De Leon has 100 more strikeouts than innings pitched during his relatively short time in the Dodgers system.

When so few balls are put into play, it's tough to scratch out many hits. So it's no surprise that in those 330 innings of work, De Leon has allowed only 273 hits. Twins pitchers have allowed the most hits of any American League team in five straight seasons.

De Leon's Changeup Is A Devastating Weapon

In the tradition of Johan Santana, De Leon relies on his changeup as an out pitch. He's comfortable throwing it in any count, and uses it often. The arm action effectively mimics his fastball to create deception, but he takes about 10 MPH off it with significant vertical movement. (Scroll down to the changeup section here for some good looks at it.)

Twins pitching coach Neil Allen, who is staying on for 2017, is known to be "big on changeups." He would undoubtedly welcome the chance to work with a starter who has developed the offering into a centerpiece of his repertoire.

The Shoulder Is A Concern

Or at least, it was. De Leon spent the first month this year in extended spring while recovering from an ankle injury, then made just one start before sitting out another five weeks due to shoulder inflammation. It's not the greatest sign for a guy who is just getting his season started.

The Dodgers proceeded very cautiously when the hurler returned from the disabled list, removing him before the fifth inning in each of his first four starts. But by the time he graduated from Triple-A those restrictions were a distant memory. In his final 10 turns with Oklahoma City prior to a September promotion to the majors, De Leon completed seven-plus innings six times and exceeded 100 pitches four times. He also went 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA.

At this point there isn't much reason to think he's got a bad wing, but it's something to keep an eye on. He hasn't thrown more than 114 total innings in a season, so he needs to prove he can hold up to a starter's workload. He appeared to wear down in his final starts for the Dodgers.

Perhaps this is the main factor compelling the Twins to a hold out for a bit more in addition to De Leon. That's reasonable enough. But even with some minor health concerns, the highly touted late bloomer appears to be a worthy top prize in exchange for Dozier. He would also provide a dramatic boost to an already encouraging pipeline of impending arrivals.

Hopefully Derek Falvey and Thad Levine can get this thing done.

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44 Comments

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Lee-The-Twins-Fan
Dec 20 2016 11:13 PM

As I've said in other posts, the Twins need to get two MLB-ready pitchers for Dozier. Dozier is a known commodity. Trading him for only one MLB-ready pitcher is underselling.

 

    • hybridbear and sploorp like this
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nicksaviking
Dec 20 2016 11:44 PM

As I've said in other posts, the Twins need to get two MLB-ready pitchers for Dozier. Dozier is a known commodity. Trading him for only one MLB-ready pitcher is underselling.


I guess I don't understand how getting other prospects would be under-selling Dozier. The ceiling of a second "MLB-ready" pitcher is going to be much lower than a guy who still needs a year or two. I mean Pat Dean is MLB ready.
    • Thrylos, Mike Frasier Law, Oldgoat_MN and 8 others like this
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clutterheart
Dec 21 2016 04:47 AM
In less than 2 months Pitchers and Catchers report in.
Times a wastin'!
    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Craig Arko, enge0280 and 2 others like this

 

 Pat Dean is KBO ready.

 

FTFY

    • d-mac likes this

They need to get it done.  At this point I would take De Leon and A-level prospects.  The Twins' 40-man roster needs some severe cleaning up to get anything else, and I am not sure that the Twins will be willing to cut the dead weight (Perkins, Santiago, Kintzler, D Santana etc) to open up space for more "MLB-ready" pitchers.

 

As is the Twins rotation is not full, it is over-floating  (Santana, Hughes, Santiago, Gibson, May, Berrios, Mejia)  They need to clean house.

    • Bob Sacamento likes this
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clutterheart
Dec 21 2016 07:50 AM

 

They need to get it done.  At this point I would take De Leon and A-level prospects.  The Twins' 40-man roster needs some severe cleaning up to get anything else, and I am not sure that the Twins will be willing to cut the dead weight (Perkins, Santiago, Kintzler, D Santana etc) to open up space for more "MLB-ready" pitchers.

 

As is the Twins rotation is not full, it is over-floating  (Santana, Hughes, Santiago, Gibson, May, Berrios, Mejia)  They need to clean house.

 

I don't disagree and don't think Dozier's value is going to get any higher.  But if the FO doesn't like the deal, they shouldn't just take whats on the table.  Id like this done before Twins Fest, and the longer this goes on the more likely Dozier starts the year as a Twin

    • Oxtung likes this

De Leon would be a great get, and would be a staple in the Twins rotation for years to come.

Brock Stewart is another name that is being mentioned. I've seen up and down reports on him, down mostly because some scouting reports peg him as a #4. What do people think of him as a prospect?

    • markos and caninatl04 like this

The Dodgers have something like ten available starting pitchers they could use which is why trading away De Leon makes sense for them.They have many pitchers close to ready in the minors.Insane.

 

The Twins have somewhere between 1 and 4 starting pitchers available, depending on who you ask.And they've been stuck at this level for five years.Also insane.

 

Spending money like the Dodgers do might not be so bad after all, no?The Dodgers managed not just to stockpile major league talent but minor league talent as well. The Dodgers changed ownership around 5 years ago and are already contending.The Twins....

    • Taildragger8791 and Vanimal46 like this
This reminds me of the Johan to the Mets deal. We all knew it was coming but lingered because the Twins were shopping the offer.

If you can a young, controlled pitcher who is better than Berrios strikes guys out you take it.
    • d-mac likes this
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Post-Concussive Blues
Dec 21 2016 09:31 AM
Puerto Rico is part of the United States.
    • USAFChief and Mike Sixel like this
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Cap'n Piranha
Dec 21 2016 09:46 AM
Thanks Carmen San Diego.
    • Vanimal46 and d-mac like this
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Nick Nelson
Dec 21 2016 10:15 AM

 

Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

Fair point! Tweaked.

At this point, I think we're more familiar with De Leon, who is still not on the team, than prospects currently on this team.
    • markos, Doomtints and d-mac like this
De Leon, Alvarez, Scott Kazmir. Get it done and work on moving Ervin Santana. Maybe kazmir stays health and is effective and you can flip him later.

This reminds me of the Johan to the Mets deal. We all knew it was coming but lingered because the Twins were shopping the offer.
If you can a young, controlled pitcher who is better than Berrios strikes guys out you take it.


And as it turned out, the Twins would have been better off keeping Santana for his last year, rather than trading him for a couple shiny trinkets.
    • Han Joelo, Dantes929, markos and 2 others like this

And as it turned out, the Twins would have been better off keeping Santana for his last year, rather than trading him for a couple shiny trinkets.


Back when the Twins were contenders, yeah they probably should have kept him and take the 1st round comp pick.

Now, since they have not been contenders since the Johan days, they could use a couple shiny trinkets.
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Bob Sacamento
Dec 21 2016 11:22 AM

 

Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

Technically, but not technically. Are they US citizens? Yes.  Do they get to vote for President? No but they have primaries.

 

It's actually a pretty bad situation in Puerto Rico economically.  They are 70 billion in debt to the US, have an unemployment rate 2.5 times the U.S. average, a 45 percent poverty rate, nearly insolvent pension systems and a chronically underfunded Medicaid insurance program for the poor.

    • Thrylos and markos like this

Deolis Guerra.  Seems like he had a helluva change up too.  Not comparing him to De Leon, exactly.  But when you look at those Fangraphs, um, graphs of future value, and you see that one that says 30% chance of being a 1-5 WAR player, just look at Guerra's career to see what that might look like.

I'm not convinced Dozier gets traded. Maybe it's because I'm not used to the new FO, but I can't see the Twins trading Dozier until the waiver deadline of his last contract year, and at his lowest offensive point.
    • Thrylos likes this
I wonder if both sides would accept De Leon and Alvarez for Dozier? Maybe take Kazmir off their hand for a lower level prospect?
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Nick Nelson
Dec 21 2016 01:06 PM

 

Technically, but not technically. Are they US citizens? Yes.  Do they get to vote for President? No but they have primaries.

 

It's actually a pretty bad situation in Puerto Rico economically.  They are 70 billion in debt to the US, have an unemployment rate 2.5 times the U.S. average, a 45 percent poverty rate, nearly insolvent pension systems and a chronically underfunded Medicaid insurance program for the poor.

Not to veer too far into this subject and away from the one at hand, but as an enormous Lin Manuel Miranda fan, I absolutely loved this bit he did about the Puerto Rican situation on John Oliver's show earlier this year: 

 

    • Bob Sacamento likes this

 

Deolis Guerra.  Seems like he had a helluva change up too.  Not comparing him to De Leon, exactly.  But when you look at those Fangraphs, um, graphs of future value, and you see that one that says 30% chance of being a 1-5 WAR player, just look at Guerra's career to see what that might look like.

Guerra struck out 7.0/9 in 11 years in the minors.He had a great change-up, but not much of a fastball.

 

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Nick Nelson
Dec 21 2016 03:42 PM

Update here on stalling Dozier trade talks from Jon Heyman: http://www.fanragspo...er-trade-talks/

 

Sounds like the two sides are agreed on De Leon as the main piece, but reaching an impasse on the rest of the package. Twins pushing for Alvarez or Buehler and getting rebuked (unsurprisingly).

 

Hopefully the deal doesn't fall apart because disagreement over the secondary pieces. 

I liked De Leon as a prospect in the minors but there are definite concerns here. I didn't like how he looked in his 4 MLB starts. His fastball looked fringy sitting 89-92 and he had poor command of it missing his spots. Hitters laid off of his changeup after his first start vs SD and sat fastball which was rather hittable. And then the shoulder issues are a problem as well (a rather large one)>

 

Hopefully it was just a combination of end of season fatigue and rookie nerves, because it wasn't pretty.

 

 

On the contrary his 1st start against the Padres was very good and hopefully an indicator of what his potential is. http://www.fangraphs...-as-advertised/

I didn't know he's from PR, interesting. I wonder what kind of impact that would have on Berrios, and vice versa, as I'm sure they're familiar with each other giving the similar age.

Maybe some familiarity, and someone to relate to, could help loosen him up a little. Language barrier, and age/cultural difference, etc.....I just don't see him developing those kinds of relationships with Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, etc. I know Santana has helped him out, but he may be gone.

Maybe a huge stretch, but it certainly can't hurt to have someone to hang out with during down time and unwind, or bouce ideas off of.

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