<
>

Will Cincy's Leake make the Big Jump?

3/25/2010

With the Hughes/Joba battle over (for now, anyway), the most interesting No. 5-starter situation is Cincinnati's. Here's John Fay with the latest speculation:

    The Reds have the schedule for pitching posted in the cubhouse leading right up to the last day of camp. Judging from it, the fifth starter will be Mike Leake or Travis Wood. Consider:

    –Wood’s and Leake’s days line up so April 11 -- the first start for the fifth start -- falls on their normal day.

    –None of the other pitchers in the race for the No. 5 spot is on the schedule for more than three innings.

    We’re still 20 days away from the first start, so that could change, particularly if both Wood and Leake struggle in their last two spring training outings.

    Here’s the schedule (by the way, Aroldis Chapman is not listed on it) ...

I don't believe Leake will actually win that job, but it sure would be interesting if he did.

Leaving aside Cuban and Asian players, I believe that Leake -- the eighth pick in the draft last summer -- would be the first player to completely skip the minor leagues since Jim Abbott did 21 years ago.

But Abbott didn't have to be. Mark Prior didn't need any time in the minors. Roger Clemens didn't. Steven Strasburg doesn't. Purely in terms of talent and performance, every few years there's probably a college pitcher who's ready, from Professional Day 1, to pitch effectively in the majors.

In fact, here's what Sickels wrote about Leake this winter: "He's maxed out physically and has no remaining projection, meaning that he's as good now as he's likely to get."

I don't know if John really believes that Leake wouldn't improve some over the next few years, with a bit of experience and high-quality postgame snacking. John's point is that some pitchers are almost fully formed in their early 20s, and there's little sense in wasting a few hundred innings in the minors and giving them that many more chances to get hurt before they help you win.

Mike Leake might be one of those guys who doesn't need those few weeks or months -- let alone years -- in the minors, but I still don't think he'll get the job right now. Travis Wood's just nine months older than Leake, doesn't throw as hard but has 529 innings professional innings of experience and pitched well in Double- and Triple-A last season. Also, I hear there's some Cuban kid who throws a hundred ...