There was a possibility that a certain pitcher would skip the minor leagues to win a spot in the Reds rotation this spring, just nobody — or nearly nobody — expected it to be 2009 first-round pick Mike Leake. But he will.
Leake will become the first drafted pitcher to skip the minor leagues altogether since Dodgers pitcher Darren Dreifort in 1994, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Reds manager Dusty Baker made it official on Friday afternoon.
“It’s kind of surreal right now,” Leake said. “It has to soak in a
Because he signed last August, the 22-year-old right-hander didn’t make his pro debut until the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.37 ERA and 15/3 K/BB ratio over 19 2/3 innings. As a result, he was a relative longshot to crack the rotation this spring. The Reds changed their minds after he posted a 3.00 ERA and 10/4 K/BB ratio over 18 innings, showing maturity beyond his years. He outlasted the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Travis Wood, Kip Wells, Matt Maloney and Micah Owings for the assignment.
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.