When Jose De Leon was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 24th round three years ago, no one really batted an eye. When he produced a 6.96 ERA in his debut, no one was surprised.
But then De Leon remade himself and became one of the most dominant pitching prospects in all of baseball. Now the question is, are the Dodgers better off keeping him or using him as trade bait?
De Leon has racked up strikeouts at a remarkable rate. Since 2014, he’s posted strikeout-per-nine rates of 13.9, 12.8 and 11.6 in the Minor Leagues. The right-hander tied a Dodgers rookie record in his Major League debut by striking out nine San Diego Padres.
While De Leon’s stuff wasn’t necessarily overpowering, he was effective at missing bats. And that’s where things get complicated.
When he broke out in 2014, his fastball was routinely in the mid-90s. However, over the past two years, De Leon’s fastball has sat more in the low-90s and, at times, he’ll settle in at 90 mph. Most pitchers can’t consistently miss bats at that velocity.
But, De Leon is different. He has excellent deception in his delivery, which makes his pitches more difficult for batters to pick up out of his hand.
Early returns on said deception weren’t encouraging, though. In his MLB debut, the 24-year-old got 11 swing-and-misses on his fastball. Through his next three starts, De Leon only got 12. His changeup also suffered; he got six swings and misses in his first game and just one in each of the next three starts.
There’s also the issue of a breaking ball, which is that he hasn’t settled on one. In his first and last big league starts this season, De Leon threw only curveballs. In his second and third starts, he threw sliders.
Neither pitch is a weapon right now, which complicates De Leon’s future role. To remain a starter, he’ll need to develop a reliable breaking ball. He’ll also need to prove he can remain healthy for a full season, as he’s dealt with some lower-body injuries, as well as a sore shoulder over the past few years.
So, should the Dodgers bet on De Leon developing a breaking ball and staying healthy? Or should they sell (relatively) high and flip one of their top prospects to fill a major league hole?
It depends on the player. If De Leon is dealt for a set-up man, then there will be pitchforks and torches. But if he’s traded for a very good second baseman, someone like Brian Dozier or Ian Kinsler, it would be hard to get angry.
Obviously, the prospect-hugger in me wants De Leon to have a long and successful career with the Dodgers. The realist in me believes getting a top-flight second baseman would greatly improve the Major League team.
I can live with either of those scenarios heading into 2017.
Should the Dodgers hold onto Jose De Leon? Should they trade him for Brian Dozier or Ian Kinsler? Let me know on Twitter (@JaredJMassey) and in the comments section below!
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